The Guardian • Issue #1987

(Dis)respect your elders:

Australia’s growing negligence of the elderly

The NSW Ageing and Disability Commission (ADC) has released a new report showing that rates of elder abuse and neglect have been rising during the lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report also showed a similar increase for vulnerable adults, particularly for people with disabilities. While Victoria does not have an equivalent Commission which deals with both ageing and disabilities, the latest report from the Disabilities Service Commission (DSC) showed a similar rise in abuse towards people with disabilities from carers, either professional or familial. Given these figures, it is safe to assume that these rates would be consistent across the rest of the country.

The ADC report identifies several different, though not mutually exclusive, forms of abuse. These include financial and physical abuse, alongside neglect, and psychological abuse, being the most common form. It states that these problems have been exacerbated by the pandemic with increased carer stress from increased burden on the healthcare system, financial pressure, disrupted family relations, particularly in terms of being able to visit, and the added difficulties of accessing in-home support and services. This has created a situation of increased social isolation and neglect for the elderly which in turn can fuel these abusive behaviours.

This is a problem that largely affects elderly women, with the report stating that,

“From the start of the ADC, most reports have been about alleged abuse, neglect and exploitation of women. In 2020-21, the adults in 63.3 per cent of the 3,566 reports to the ADC were female, including 65.7 per cent of reports about older people (1,824), and 55 per cent of reports about adults with disability.”

Legal Aid NSW has linked these high rates of elder abuse with the rising cost and increasing inaccessibility of housing for younger generations, calling it “inheritance impatience.” This impatience can take many forms, from children wanting access to their parent(s)’ pension payment all the way up to manipulating them into signing their houses over. The legal service also pointed out that the pandemic has caused many children to move back in with their parents after having lost their job or facing financial difficulties. This situation has naturally created a state of heightened stress as peoples’ livelihoods are thrust into an increasingly precarious situation, dragging younger generations further and further away from being able to enter into an already difficult housing market. There are a number of ways this problem can be addressed.

While serious investment in better quality and more accessible public and community housing is more desirable, there are immediate reforms the government could enact to make the housing market more accessible. In the Netherlands if you don’t have enough savings to afford the ten per cent deposit, a third party or your bank can be your guarantor for a fee of just one per cent of the deposit amount. You are still assessed on your income and ability to pay off the mortgage but nevertheless this provides much greater access for people to be able to buy their own house.

Housing inaccessibility is an old problem, predating the pandemic, with years of government mismanagement and stagnating wages increasingly forcing younger generations out of the market. This in turn is increasingly destroying familial relations over questions of money, further ingraining these cycles of elder abuse. Proper federal and state regulation of the housing market alongside proper financial support would be a small but necessary step towards ensuring Australia’s elderly population get the respect and dignity they deserve, and that younger Australians get the housing security they need.

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