Twenty years ago, there was a reluctance to accept the reality of child abuse. Much the same way, the abuse of older people is difficult for society to accept and talk about today. What makes it all the more difficult is that in most cases of elder abuse, the abusers are often close to the victim; partners, family members, neighbours and acquaintances — people who may be undertaking an unofficial caring role, without the badge or qualifications. And herein lies the danger.
Because we are living longer, more people are choosing to live at home with paid-for support to help them with day-to-day tasks, such as dressing, washing, cooking and cleaning.
Yet a few hours’ of support every week quickly adds up, costing hundreds if not thousands of pounds per month, growing as the person’s care needs increase. So it is not surprising that more and more people look to the informal and unregulated market of care. Rather than an agency charging £18 per hour, they turn to a neighbour or a cleaner they know, who says they’ll charge half as much. It seems like a win-win, and sometimes is.
But the strict regulation of care services exists for a reason. It is there to protect vulnerable people. Nothing can provide 100 percent protection against abuse, but regulation can dramatically reduce the likelihood of ill treatment or fraud, just as it can dramatically increase the quality of care.
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Staff members working for regulated care home providers are vetted, qualified, trained, support and monitored. Regulation means that, if there is a problem, it is more likely to be picked up at an early stage and acted upon swiftly. All this costs more than the neighbour, family friend or person who responded to the advert in the local paper, who may charge as little as £10 an hour cash-in-hand. But is the saving worth it?
As a society, we worry about the vulnerability of those living in our care homes. However, care homes are regulated. It is harder to abuse an older person in a care home than it is behind the closed doors of a private home.
As if the reality of the scale of elder abuse isn’t difficult enough for us to comprehend, the lack of reporting and prosecutions is even more shocking. Abuse of older people is hugely under-reported. Nearly one third of victims told no one. Even more shocking is the fact that even when reported, more often than not the abuser is not successfully prosecuted and handed a criminal conviction.
A huge study found that just 0.7 percent of cases in 2016-17 ended in criminal convictions, a lower proportion than for racially motivated crimes (10.3%), domestic abuse
(3.8%) and hate crime (1%).
Those of us working in this area know it is still a struggle to get the topic of elder abuse accorded the status that cruelty to children has attained. Denial, guilt and a tendency to blame the older people themselves all play a part. Raising awareness is the key to prevention. Knowing the signs will be vital if we are to intervene when abuse is happening.
We need to support older people to make decisions about their care and support that provide them with the most protection. The more vulnerable they are, the higher the risk of abuse. Anyone who has dealings with the older generation – be they family, friends, neighbours or synagogue members – needs to be both scrupulous in their own behaviour and vigilant in observing and reporting that of other possible offenders.
Over the past 20 years, understanding of young people at risk has increased. In turn, so, too, has early intervention programmes, reporting of concerns and support for victims. Our hope is that by raising awareness of the risks older people are facing, so, too, will understanding and access to support.
- For more information about elder abuse, go to www.jewishcare.org/ elder abuse.
- To sign up for a free community information evening about elder abuse, visit www.jewishcare.org/events