You will undoubtedly have heard many times that our population is ageing and that as a society, we must ensure we are ready for the impact of this substantial shift in our demographic makeup. It is reasonable to ask though whether we have truly grasped what this means for all of us, and how we will be able to cater for both the health and care needs of this growing segment of our population.
It is in unpalatable truth that society is already starting to show signs of ‘fraying at the edges’ when it comes to how we look after those in their final years. According to the United Nations , between now and 2050, the number of people worldwide over 60 will increase from 900 million to 2 billion. Their figures also show that in the region of one in six older people experience abuse and that this may be higher for those living in institutions, as opposed to being in the community.
Raising awareness: World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD)
15th June 2019 marked World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, to raise awareness of what the UN refers to as the taboo subject of elder abuse. They make the point that many crimes against older people go unreported, with only one in 24 cases being reported, and that abuse can take many forms, including:
- psychological abuse
- financial abuse
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
WEAAD is intended not only to raise awareness, but also to raise funds for charities such as Action on Elder Abuse, who can then, in turn, fund vital services to assist elderly individuals and also seek changes in legislation which will make abuse of this highly vulnerable population more fit for purpose.
The Government’s poor relation report on crimes against the elderly
In July 2019, an official government report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), was published following a joint review of how the police and CPS handle crimes against older people. Part of this inspection was to consider how well the Care Act 2014, which placed a statutory duty on the police to provide safeguarding for vulnerable adults, was working.
Their analysis made a number of findings, including highlighting:
- There is no specific focus by the police on crimes against older people
- The CPS has a specific policy for handling crimes against older people, but this is not widely considered or applied by prosecutors
- There is a need for the police and CPS to find a common approach to crimes against older people
- There is a lack of consistency in how the police approach crimes against older people and those who require safeguarding – with a corresponding lack of resources and effectiveness of outcome.
- Police training in working and identifying those who are vulnerable is proving effective.
- Investigations into crimes on older people are often flawed.
- The police often do not consider the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, which requires they assess the needs of victims and provide support where necessary.
- Police often don’t use approaches which reflect the needs of older people who have been the victim of a crime (e.g. thinking of other ways to gather evidence or providing hearing loops in Court).
The report was also critical of the lack of sophistication of policies to protect vulnerable people and the consistency and effectiveness of referral systems to support those individuals.
Despite the breadth of room for improvement, the report found many positive examples of where constabularies have implemented processes and systems which are making a real difference in protecting vulnerable older people from abuse and other crimes. One example of such an initiative is Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s witness care unit which provides the assistance of a specialist worker who assists in the recovery of elderly people who have been the victim of crime.
Protecting our elderly population from financial abuse
According to the Financial Times, financial abuse is a growing problem for elderly people, due to the perception they have more money and will be more vulnerable than younger individuals. The Care Act 2014 states that financial abuse can include having money or property stolen, being defrauded, being put under pressure in relation to money or other property, or having money or other property misused.
Age UK’s own research has discovered that financial crime against elderly people is most often not perpetrated by faceless actors unknown to the victim; in 70% of cases, the crime is carried out by a family member.
For this reason, it is essential that anyone making decisions regarding their estate (i.e. creating or updating their Will), it is essential to do so with the aid and support of a specialist Solicitor, who will not only ensure that no coercion takes place, they will ensure that all aspects of the Will are fully understood and all related questions answered.
Tacking elderly abuse in the care home
As outlined above, institutional abuse against the elderly is increasing. An article in the Independent in 2018 laid bare the scale of the problem in our nursing and care homes. Research by University College London (UCL) and the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, found that in 91 of 92 care homes surveyed, some level of abuse was uncovered; typically, these were forms of neglect, such as having to wait for care and being insufficient time to eat. Another of the most common complaints was of residents with the most complex needs being actively avoided by carers, meaning they had to wait for an extended time to have their needs dealt with.
Given the prevalence of neglect and abuse in care homes involving elderly people, families of individuals being (or suspected of being) abused are often and understandably unsure how to respond. If you have reason to suspect a loved one is being subjected to serious abuse, contact the police immediately. In less urgent cases, in the first instance, we recommend seeking the guidance of a Solicitor specialising in elderly care, who will be able to advise you on your options before approaching the nursing or care home directly. By doing so, you can ensure your loved one is afforded the protection and care they deserve in their later years.
If you would like help with any aspect of elderly care, Wills, estate planning, power of attorney, or any other matter, please contact us on 01202 802 807 to make an initial appointment with one of our expert Solicitors, Alexandra Livesey or Paul Solomons.