The Cost of Abuse and Neglect in the Disability Sector – The Importance of Safeguarding

On 21 February 2023 the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Royal Commission) published their latest report, Economic Cost of Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Report). A link to the report can be found here.

Learnings from the Royal Commission

The Report considered maltreatment experienced by people with disability, both interpersonally and systemically. The Report found that of the 4.8 million people living with disability in 2021-2022, the economic cost of maltreatment was $46 billion per annum. This economic cost was broken down into two categories: the cost of interpersonal maltreatment ($18.3 billion) and the cost of systematic failure and neglect ($27.7 billion). Between these two categories, $28.4 billion was associated with health and wellbeing outcomes due to poor health, quality of life issues or death. The Report estimates that the lifetime economic cost of maltreatment of individuals is approximately $474 billion.


Of the 4.8 million people living with disability, 60% have experienced abuse or maltreatment. Of this 60%, First Nations people are twice as likely to experience maltreatment, costs are 1/3 higher for those with psychosocial disabilities, there is a 20% higher cost for those with a more severe or profound disability, women are more likely to experience interpersonal maltreatment and men are more likely to experience systemic maltreatment.


These are significant and confronting statistics, so what does this mean for organisations?

The Financial Cost to Organisations

The Report found 40% of people with disability reported incidents of maltreatment from an organisation which included use of restrictive practices, sexual abuse and misconduct, injury, death, abuse and neglect. $28.4 billion of the overall estimated economic costs associated with maltreatment were attached to health and wellbeing outcomes. Of this figure, $18.4 billion was a result of systematic failures which impacted a person’s overall health, creating poorer health outcomes, increased mental health concerns, increased self-harming, avoidable death and higher rates of loneliness. The remaining $10 billion was a result of interpersonal maltreatment from a family member, stranger or care professional which impacted a person’s overall quality of life and health needs.

These negative health and wellbeing outcomes are found to have a flow on effect impacting a person’s capacity to engage in meaningful employment and engage with support services, and results in higher rates of incarceration and involvement with the justice system, and higher rates of homelessness or unstable and inaccessible housing issues. Such issues can also lead to further incidents of abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation. The overall economic cost of such systemic issues is estimated to be $12.9 billion.

These figures are quite overwhelming but they only represent reportable findings by the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission has estimated the true economic cost to likely be around $791.7 billion. Despite these current projected lifetime figures, costs can be saved over time if organisations address systematic failures which have been identified by the Royal Commission to prevent future incidents of maltreatment.

Safeguarding in Organisations

Organisations have a duty of care to protect vulnerable people from maltreatment and harm. Risk mitigation and safeguarding is an essential component to ensure that organisations can prioritise the safety and wellbeing of people with disability and address the systematic failures reported by the Royal Commission.

Organisations and its staff must have an understanding of the needs of people with disability, including the increased vulnerabilities associated with this. Upskilling employees through training and education is vital to ensure that organisations hold the requisite skills and knowledge to work with people with disability, protect them from exposure to harm and develop their capacity and awareness to respond to allegations of maltreatment.

Having effective policies and procedures in place not only mitigates the risk of maltreatment occurring, but also provides employees with clear guidance on how to respond and report allegations of maltreatment in the workplace. This can also include having clear reporting lines and complaints procedures in place so that people with disability feel safe to report their concerns.

Organisations must also ensure that when allegations of harm are made, or concerns exist, they are appropriately responded to. Complaints systems should be trauma informed and investigations carried out by qualified specialist investigators with an understanding of the disability sector and skills to include individuals with disability in the investigation so that their voice can be heard. This may include adjustments to the interview process which encourage individuals with a disability to be involved in the investigation.

How can Safe Space Legal help?

Safe Space Legal understands the importance of ensuring that organisations in the disability, aged care and children’s sectors, are meeting their safeguarding obligations to protect vulnerable people. Safe Space Legal can assist organisations by:

  • Providing training to organisations on safeguarding obligations and duty of care
  • Reviewing and drafting policies, procedures and codes of conduct
  • Reviewing and drafting complaints processes for responding to and reporting allegations of maltreatment, including complaints procedures for consumers
  • Providing advice on current workplace systems and procedures
  • Conducting specialist investigations into allegations of maltreatment in the disability, aged care and children’s sectors
  • Auditing and completing root cause analyses of critical incidents

Contact [email protected] or call 03 9124 7321 to arrange a free consultation in relation to your organisation’s safeguarding needs.

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