$525 million: annual bully bill for Australia

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19 March

Almost a quarter of Australian school students are bullied at some stage during their time in school with annual costs reaching $525 million, according to a new PwC Australia analysis commissioned by the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

The Economic Cost of Bullying in Australian Schools reveals that, each year, approximately 910,000 Australian school students experience bullying, instigated by 543,000 bully perpetrators. The 910,000 victims collectively experience 45 million bullying incidents in a year.

The analysis estimates the annual cost of bullying for all school students is $525 million. Time spent by senior staff and student support officers dealing with bullying accounts for the largest proportion of the predicted costs - $307 million, followed by $182 million in costs to carers for taking care of students who are absent from school as a result of bullying.

The longer term costs to Australia in the 20 years after students finish school are estimated to reach $1.8 billion for each school year group, including over $500 million in forgone income for victims as a result of poor performance in school due to bullying, and nearly $340 million in costs for chronic health conditions that continue after school finishes, including mental health, obesity and eating disorders.

Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO, Lesley Podesta, said: “This study quantifies the extensive impacts of bullying across student and adult life. While the findings are shocking, they are not surprising.

“The trauma bullying causes victims, their families, schools and the community is significant and is felt both immediately and long after victims have completed school. Bullying is complex and self-perpetuating and requires interventions at multiple levels - 218,000 students who are victims will go on to bully later.

“Putting a dollar figure on a problem that is about the wellbeing and safety of human beings may seem a bit impersonal, but we think it’s a powerful way to shine a spotlight on the immediate and ongoing social, economic and fiscal impacts of Australia’s bullying problem.

“Understanding these costs is critical to informing effective programs and prevention measures to reduce its occurrence. In particular, this analysis highlights the snowball effect of bullying at school and the importance of starting prevention focused programs at the start of each student’s schooling life,” Ms Podesta said.

Australia’s $525 million annual bully bill includes: $307 million for senior staff time spent on bullying, $182 million for carers of students who are absent due to bullying, $28 million for the use of mental health services, $5 million for direct primary and acute health services, and $3 million for police involvement.

The $1.8 billion in costs experienced by each school year group over a 20 year period after finishing school include: $506 million impact on income due to lower educational attainment, $150 million for ongoing costs associated with mental health conditions, $156 million for adult obesity linked to bullying during schooling years, $34 million for eating disorders, $945 million in costs related to continued bullying behaviour including violence, and $2 million as a result of the tragic circumstance of suicide.

Child psychologist and National Centre Against Bullying member, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, said he has seen the lasting damage bullying causes to young people’s confidence and sense of worth. “Ensuring young people feel included, valued and respected for who they are is essential to keeping them happy and safe, and to allow them to grow up strong and resilient.”

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