Abuse of older people at ‘unprecedented levels’

November 30, 2020

Abuse of older people is at ‘unprecedented levels’ warns UK safer ageing charity, Hourglass, as new data emerges revealing that nearly 2.7m UK citizens over the age of 65 are thought to have been abused.

The Growing old in the UK 2020 survey was initially commissioned in February 2020 by the charity to conduct research into the general public’s knowledge and understanding of the abuse of older people. Overall, 2,494 people took part in the survey. In June 2020, Hourglass commissioned an update to the existing survey. Overall, 2,505 people took part in the follow-up survey.

The survey found that of over 2,500 adults, one in five (22%) people either had personal experience of abuse as an older person (aged 65+) or knew an older person who had been abused, and 53% of people in the UK felt that the abuse and neglect of older people had increased as a result of lockdown. Previous estimates have put the figure significantly lower, with the World Health Organisation estimating that, globally, one in six people aged 60 and older experienced some form of abuse in the last year.

In March, Hourglass warned that isolation and lockdown would act like a 'pressure cooker' for the abuse of older people, with attitudes toward what 'counts' as abuse fuelling this crisis, and situations where older people are locked down with their abusers or isolated without care only making things worse. Under lockdown conditions, older people lack the safeguards that would have previously existed through day-to-day contact with the outside world.

The survey revealed that at least one in three (35%) don’t believe that ‘inappropriate sexual acts directed at older people’ count as abuse; nearly a third (30%) don’t view ‘pushing, hitting, or beating an older person’ as abuse, while likewise nearly a third (32%) don’t see ‘taking precious items from an older relative’s home without asking’ as abuse.

Commenting on the findings, Chief Executive of Hourglass, Richard Robinson said, 'I was genuinely shocked. Although we’ve known for a long time that we live in a world prejudiced against older people, the results show how widespread the issue is. These figures really shine a light on the true scale of the crisis.

'Our polling shows that while people know that abuse of older people is a problem in the UK today, there’s a complete disconnect between awareness of the issue and a true understanding of the role we all play in preventing abuse.'

Robinson said the data reveals a disturbing level of tolerance towards abusive behaviours in our society.

'While I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of people don’t consider themselves to be abusers, the truth is that a troubling proportion of those we surveyed don’t actually see some very harmful behaviours as abuse. Without countering these perceptions, people are far more likely to perpetuate the cycle of abuse and are part of the problem.'

Hourglass announced this week that it is expanding its points of service entry, both in response to this new evidence as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Building on its Helpline, the charity is creating the UK’s first Knowledge Bank for people seeking support or advice from the charity and its partners. This will include an instant messaging service to signpost users to appropriate resources. Furthermore, the charity will begin to refer cases to a localised Community Response Team, first being rolled out in Scotland, who will be able to take on casework for older people and their families.

Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC said, 'These latest findings by Hourglass are both concerning and unacceptable. The abuse of older people is a significant problem and one that regrettably slips under the radar all too often. I therefore welcome this spotlight on the issue of elderly abuse and thank Hourglass for their important work in ending the harm, abuse and exploitation of older people in the UK.

'It’s important that people know to look out for signs of abuse in older people and know how to signpost support. It also bears repeating: if you, or someone you know, is suffering abuse, isolation rules do not apply. You can and should break lockdown rules to escape injury or harm. Lockdown will not stop you getting help. Charities like Hourglass carry on, helplines are live, and you are not alone.'

For more information about Hourglass, visit the Hourglass website.

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is due to release a new guideline on recognising the signs of abuse and neglect in care homes.


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Mike Thompson

The social care system in England is regulated (CQC). However, those working in the social care sector are not regulated. This is a curious discrepancy. There is an urgent need for a system of regulation to ensure those individuals working in social care are fit and proper to do so. A national care register (common in other professions and trades) would also provide a mechanism to recognise those who work professionally and competently and eliminate those who are not.

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