15 June 2018 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Elder abuse is a global issue affecting the health and human rights of millions of older people across the globe, including in Australia. In recognition of the significance of this issue, the United Nations has designated 15 June as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: a day for the world to voice its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted on our older generations. This year our lawyer, Helen Phelps, looks at what action the Australian government is taking to address elder abuse in our community.

What is elder abuse?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines elder abuse as ‘a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person’. This is the most widely accepted definition of the issue.
At the core of this definition is the term ‘expectation of trust’. The abuse is not committed by unknown perpetrators but rather family members, friends, paid carers and paid professionals of older people.
Elder abuse can include:

  • Financial and material abuse
  • Abandonment
  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Serious loss of dignity and respect

Elder abuse in Australia – what steps are being taken to tackle the issue?

In 1994 an article from the Australian Institute of Financial Studies recommended the introduction of intervention strategies to detect and prevent elder abuse. After several decades of campaigning from social workers, academics and lawyers, it appears we are on the cusp of seeing legislative reform to protect older Australians from abuse and neglect in the home.
In 2016, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) commenced an inquiry that considered current Commonwealth laws and legal frameworks and how they could better protect older persons from abuse. The report Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response was tabled on 14 June 2017 and included 43 recommendations. At their core, these reforms are intended to acknowledge and protect the dignity and autonomy of older Australians, including:

  • Improving responses to elder abuse in aged care
  • Enhancing employment screening of care workers
  • Creating greater scrutiny regarding the use of protective practices in in aged care
  • Building trust and confidence in enduring documents as important advanced planning tools
  • Protecting older people when ‘assets for care’ arrangements go wrong
  • Making certain bank and financial institutions protect vulnerable customers from abuse
  • Establishing better succession planning across self-managed superannuation sector
  • Creating adult safeguarding regimes to protect and support at-risk adults

The ALRC also recommended that the Australian government develop a national plan to combat elder abuse. In response to this recommendation, the 2018 federal budget included a promise of $22 million in funding over a 5-year period to support:

  • Expansion and development of support service trials
  • The creation of an elder abuse knowledge hub
  • A national prevalence research scoping study
  • Development of a national plan to address elder abuse

In line with the ALRC’s report, the national plan to combat elder abuse will have five goals:

  1. Promoting the autonomy and agency of older people
  2. Addressing ageism and promoting community understanding of elder abuse
  3. Achieving national consistency
  4. Safeguarding at-risk older people and improving responses
  5. Building the evidence basis

With the release of the ALRC’s report and promises made by the government, it is now a matter of waiting to see whether the national plan develops and what other promises will be met. These are certainly positive steps. If you would like more information on the effect of the 2018 budget on older Australians, please see Helen’s recent blog.

Snedden Hall & Gallop Lawyers can assist you

Our Wills & Estates team can help you ensure your friends and family respect the choices you make during your later years in the event you lose the capacity to make your own decisions. We can work with you to create an enduring power of attorney (EPA) and ensure that your wishes are communicated and documented and you can specify what decisions your attorney can make on your behalf.
At Snedden Hall & Gallop, we have vast experience in ensuring that our clients are supported in the creation of their important personal documents including wills and EPAs. In addition, we have a strong litigation team who can assist you if an attorney misuses their power. Please contact us by phone on 02 6285 8000 or by email.

Interested in more information? Raising Awareness of Elder Abuse