A lack of comparable data is hindering efforts to track and prevent elder abuse among Australians according to Senator Deborah O’Neill, who spoke at the launch of the Financial Services Council’s consumer guide, Prevention of Financial Elder Abuse.

The Labor MP said almost 11,000 calls were made to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in FY2018, and most victims were women. Otherwise, she lamented, we don’t know enough about the problem to help.

“This lack of information and comparable data are the biggest barriers to tackling the problem,” she said. “We need to bring it out from behind closed doors and talk about it.”

O’Neill said she was shocked by some elder abuse cases perpetrated by scammers and people known to victims. The nefarious acts of some financial service providers, however, left her “horrified”.

“A key takeaway from the Hayne royal commission was the amount of people being taken advantage of by people in a position of trust,” she said. “Third party lending, malicious practices… they’re pretty much some of the worst you’re going to see with regards to financial elder abuse.”

Yet understanding the extent of the problem, O’Neill explained, is the real challenge.

The World Health Organisation reports between two and 14 per cent of elderly people in high or middle-income countries suffer elder abuse, with financial abuse the most prevalent form.

However, while in Australia there are studies that have “yielded some insights” into the extent to which women, in particular, suffer from elder abuse, there are “limitations in the measures used and the extent to which they assess concepts relevant to elder abuse”.

The issue is also brought up in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2019 “Data Insights” report, which stated that while data was essential to understand how people engage with and navigate welfare services, “gaps exist where there are no national data currently available or where data collected are not comprehensive”.

The AIHW report noted that while tackling elder abuse would require involvement from several jurisdictions, more evidence is needed to know what works to prevent elder abuse.

“Australia needs better data so policymakers understand the scale of the problem, key patterns and trends,” the report stated.

The FSC’s own guide noted that while more resources have been committed by the government to enhance the scope of data collection and analysis, to this point data collection has occurred “on a state-by-state basis through community groups and call centre data”.

Providers share some of the blame for the lack of data. Elder abuse was a key topic at the Aged Care Royal Commission earlier this year, where only 83 of the 2000 aged care providers in the country – or 4 per cent – provided information by the commission’s start date.

The limp response spurred Commissioner Lynelle Briggs to comment that the aged care sector may no longer be “fit for purpose”.

The Royal Commission’s interim report is due to be provided by this Thursday, with its final report no later than April 30, next year.

Labor’s O’Neill believes people should use the momentum provided by the recent inquiries to get some traction on addressing “this scourge on our society”

“The banking royal commission and now the aged care royal commission have certainly put the mistreatment of older Australia in the spotlight and it’s absolutely about time,” she said.

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