Elder abuse strategy

Recommendation 12–1            The Department of Human Services (Cth) should develop an elder abuse strategy.

12.4     The majority of older Australian residents receive regular income through the Age Pension. The National Commission of Audit reported that, in 2012, approximately 80% of all Australians over Age Pension age received income through government pensions.[1] It estimated that the proportion of eligible people receiving income through the Age Pension will remain steady over the next 30 years.[2]

12.5     The Department of Human Services (Cth) designs, develops, delivers, and monitors social security.[3] Centrelink is the body that delivers social security payments, including the Age Pension.[4] Given that it is such a contact point with older Australians, Centrelink is in a frontline position to contribute to combating elder abuse. Moreover, as the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service NSW said, ‘Centrelink is a non-threatening, universal ‘soft-entry’ point for older people to access supports’.[5]

12.6     The ALRC recommends that the Department of Human Services (Cth) develop a discrete elder abuse strategy, to assist Centrelink staff to be alert to the possibility of elder abuse, and to develop appropriate responses when dealing with older people. Stakeholders responding to the Discussion Paper were broadly supportive of the development of an elder abuse strategy, while acknowledging the resource implications of such a strategy.[6]

12.7     Centrelink’s Family and Domestic Violence Strategy 2016–19 provides a useful model. It focuses on providing information about family and domestic violence, identifying those at risk of family and domestic violence, providing referrals and support, training staff in relation to family and domestic violence, and embedding responses to violence across systems and processes.

12.8     While older people may be subjected to family violence, and there are points of intersection between family violence and elder abuse,[7] Centrelink’s Family and Domestic Violence Strategy 2016–19 may not facilitate the development of specific policies to prevent, identify and respond to the abuse of older persons.[8] The Welfare Rights Centre (WRC) observed, for example, that despite the reference to carers of older persons, the strategy document ‘fails to directly mention or refer to elder abuse’.[9] The National Welfare Rights Network suggested that a more ‘comprehensive explanation of elder abuse is warranted’ in the Guide to Social Security Law.[10]

12.9     A discrete strategy should increase the attention given to the circumstances that can lead to the abuse of older persons and facilitate improved responses. The elder abuse strategy would complement and sit within the proposed National Plan, discussed in Chapter 3. Implementation of the recommendations and suggestions that follow could be specific actions forming part of a broader elder abuse strategy. The role of an elder abuse strategy in responding to specific concerns arising from family agreements is discussed in Chapter 6.