The 15th June is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. You’d be forgiven for not having heard of it / for it passing you by. The abuse and neglect of older people, outside the occasional shocking account of exploitation by a care worker, simply isn’t on our public radar nor any sort of policy priority for the UK government. Yet in research produced by Hourglass last year, more than a fifth of the UK public have personally experienced abuse as an older person (65+) or know someone who has been abused.
Around one million people over the age of 65 are victims of abuse each year in the UK. That means on the awareness day itself, an average of 2,700 older people will be victims.
Yet, there wasn’t a single mention of this serious issue in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year or in any planned bill going before parliament and in no party manifesto at the last election. We are an ageing society so without fundamental recognition of this issue leading to real, tangible action and new policy, this is an urgent problem that is only going to increase in scale and impact.
As we continue to emerge from lockdown, we will see more evidence emerge of how some older have been grievously mistreated behind closed doors by the very people they should be able to place their trust in. And yet, the only UK charity focused on the abuse of older people receives little or no government support in the face of this crisis, save for a small amount of emergency funding it was given during the pandemic.
Why do we have a blind spot when it comes to the abuse of older people? Is it because we simply value the lives of older people less than we do others? Think back to the debates around shielding last year and the number of mainstream voices suggesting we lock up older people for months at a time so younger people can keep their freedoms in the face of the threat of Covid.
It is an indictment of our complacency on this issue that we currently know far more about the abuse and neglect of farm animals than we do older people in the UK – the Crime Survey of England and Wales, historically capped at 75 has still not started collecting information on older victims of abuse, despite a long-promised change to the age cap.
This has to change but to change we need to know what the true scale of the problem is. That is why we are calling on the police and prosecution services in all jurisdictions to adopt a standard policy for flagging ‘crimes against older people’, and publish the numbers each year. What that would reveal would be appalling but it would give us the strong evidence and the baseline we need to truly start to understand the challenges faced by all of us as we age in the UK.” That call is up to date from our most recent policy paper on data collection.