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Study Exposes Soaring Cost of Abuse

10 November 2014

Study Exposes Soaring Cost of Abuse

Child abuse and violence between partners are estimated to be costing New Zealand up to $7 billion a year and rising, an economic impact study conducted for the Glenn Inquiry has concluded.

This is seven times more than what it was costing 20 years ago, and equates to 60 percent of New Zealand’s total dairy export earnings in 2013. The abuse and violence is nearly twice as costly per head of population here as it is in Australia.

At this rate, the accumulated costs over the next 10 years could approach $80 billion.

Victims are paying the highest price mainly in pain, suffering and early death, including from high rates of depression and anxiety, with abused children bearing more than $1 billion of the total.

The abuse and violence is also costing nearly $1 billion a year in lost productivity in the workplace.

Sir Owen Glenn’s independent inquiry into child abuse and domestic violence is today making public the research, “Measuring the Economic Costs of Child Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence in New Zealand” as part of its work designing a better way to address New Zealand’s alarming family violence rates.

The report authors describe the economic cost to society from these core forms of abuse as enormous and unsatisfactory, especially when there are solutions.

And they caution that their cost calculations of between $4.1 billion and $7 billion in 2014 may understate the true picture because of gaps in data collection, reporting and historically restricted sharing of information and knowledge by government agencies.

Even the high-end estimates are based on conservative assumptions and their work only captures violence and abuse against children and between intimate partners such as spouses and girlfriends. It does not attempt to measure other forms of family violence such as elder abuse and violence between siblings.

Broken down, the report calculates that:
• The annual health costs from treating victims is $377 million
• Costs associated with victim and survivor support, child protection, police, court, corrections and legal services and perpetrator programmes add up to a further nearly $840 million
• Productivity costs such as lost wages and days off work are nearly $1 billion
• Transfer costs to the economy from benefit payments, ACC compensation and lost tax revenue approach $600 million
• There is an extra $705 million cost from changes in consumption patterns from, for instance, the higher cost of living for women who live alone to escape violence

The authors say more than a quarter of a million women between age 17 and 65 will have experienced family violence in the June 2014 year, and this number will keep rising if nothing is done to break the cycle.

Costs have escalated because despite apparent increases in government spending it appears most of the spending has been responding to symptoms. There have been only small increases in investment in providers who can offer solutions and in institutional change to more effectively address the long-term steps required to achieve positive permanent outcomes.

Project Director Suzanne Snively says: “There was an encouraging amount of engagement with the project by services providers and their researchers to get to the bottom of the nature and extent of child abuse and intimate partner violence - sadly, illuminating a problem that remains startlingly costly.”

For example, child abuse referrals to authorities represent 9.4 percent of all New Zealand’s children. However, the authors found evidence that reiterated their concerns about under-reporting. The key recommendation is for nationwide, interagency data to be collected and reported transparently so that the true size and nature of child abuse and intimate partner violence can be revealed and effective solutions found.

“While undertaking this study we found a ground swell of activities to change the way government agencies collect share and report data about child abuse and family violence,” they say, referring as well to the advice of the Family Violence Clearing House on this question.

The costing framework is designed to guide the Glenn Inquiry as it drafts a new model for addressing New Zealand’s unacceptably high family violence rates. The Inquiry aims to complete this blueprint for change by the end of this month, also drawing on other streams of work and The People’s Report published in June.

Inquiry chairman Bill Wilson QC says the costs exposed in the study bring an extra dimension to the real-life experiences related in The People’s Report. They bear out the concerns of those at the frontline that the scale and ripple effects of family abuse and violence is vastly underestimated.

“Our business and political leaders recently expressed alarm that a fall in dairy prices has wiped $4 billion off the New Zealand economy this season, yet it turns out family violence could be costing society almost twice that every year,” Mr Wilson said.

“The scale of the economic impact reinforces that family violence is everyone’s problem. And as the researchers say, there is no excuse for child abuse or family violence. This would be true, even if the economic cost of these behaviours was zero.”

The full report and other work of the Inquiry can be read here and on the Inquiry website: http//glenninquiry.org.nz


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