Older persons charity Hourglass is marking World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by launching a campaign to call for the government to implement a dedicated strategy to tackle Violence Against Older People.
In 2021, the government launched a new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG). This strategy saw the implementation of a range of measures to help protect women and girls from abuse and support those affected.
This year for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the charity is asking for your support to appeal for a similar strategy to tackle Violence Against Older People, with a goal to ensure that older victim-survivors are protected from abuse, warning that it will intervene when abuse happens and that recovery services are available for those who are impacted.
Six messages that help explain why a strategy to tackle violence against older people is so necessary.
1. The abuse of older people exists and affects millions of people
It’s estimated that 1 in 5 people over 60 experience some form of abuse or neglect. That means 2.6 million older people in the UK experience abuse each and every year.
Despite this, public awareness of the abuse of older people is limited, with our Last in Line research report revealing that only 7% of people think of older adults in relation to abuse, compared to 20% of people who think of animals.
Abuse is often portrayed in the media as an issue that only affects younger women, but people of all ages and gender identities experience abuse.
A strategy to tackle Violence Against Older People would help dispel the myth that abuse doesn’t happen to older people and ensure that older victim-survivors are more aware that help is available.
A dedicated strategy forces government and wider society to have that difficult, yet necessary conversation about violence against older people. It’s time to break that taboo and address the problem.
2. The problem is getting worse.
We have an ageing population, the lasting legacy of the pandemic, an ongoing cost of living crisis and a lack of infrastructure to support safer ageing. Older people are victims of physical and sexual assault, yet this remains a taboo.
Calls to our 24/7 helpline have increased 66% since the previous year and we’re taking on more cases than ever, dealing with horrific cases of abuse across the four nations.
It’s clear that the abuse of older people is a growing problem, one that needs urgent attention and dedicated support.
A Violence Against Older People strategy is essential to ensure that we stop this growing trend of abuse. This strategy should include specialist support for older victims, and tools to help detect and prevent this violence.
3. Physical and sexual abuse is a reality for many older people in the UK.
While many of the cases we encounter on our helpline involve issues around financial/economic and psychological abuse, a worrying proportion of cases involve violence against older people.
Physical and sexual abuse has a detrimental impact on older victim-survivors and their loved ones, resulting in depression, anxiety, fear and increased isolation. Alongside this are physical effects such as reduced mobility fractured bones and wounds that can become infected. In some cases, it can even result in the death of a victim.
Data from our 24/7 helpline reveals that 16% of our calls involve physical violence.
Older people should be able to age safely and free of violence. The first step is to acknowledge there is a problem, and develop a strategy to address it.
4. The abuse of older people is closer to home and more prevalent than you think.
A common myth is that the physical and sexual abuse of older people mostly occurs in care homes and residential care settings. However, the majority of cases actually occur in the victim-survivors own home.
Since 2021, 11% of calls to our helpline involving physical or sexual abuse occurred in care homes, compared to 74% of cases occurring in the victim-survivors own home.
While abuse does occur in care homes, a strategy to Violence Against Older People must consider the fact that this abuse is often committed in domestic settings. For care homes, we need a strategy that ensures the regulators, care providers and law enforcement are working together.
5. Abuse doesn’t always have to be physical to be violent
Since 2021, just under half (49%) of calls to our helpline involved some form of financial/economic abuse, making it by far the most common form of abuse that we encounter.
Economic abuse is often linked to violence, or the threat of violence through forms of abuse such as coercive control, predatory marriage and more.
While economic abuse doesn’t always involve physical violence, the abuse can feel violent to the victim-survivor, resulting in feelings of shame, fear and a loss of dignity.
The government must work with Hourglass to develop a strategy to tackle this form of abuse which disproportionately affects older people.
6. Older victims of abuse need specialist support services
The abuse of older people requires specialist support services to deal with the unique ways that abuse manifests in later life.
Older victim-survivors can often be reliant on the perpetrator for care needs or as a sole point of social contact. Often, they are in control of a victim-survivors money, access to food, transport and more.
In addition, the perpetrators are more likely to be family members, leaving victim-survivors reluctant to leave the abusive situation or prosecute.
Dedicated specialist services such as our 24/7 helpline and community response should be a centrepiece of any strategy to tackle Violence Against Older People , providing direct intervention and recovery from abuse.
Veronica Gray, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Director of Policy at Hourglass, commented,
‘Hourglass research (2021-22) tells us 11% of calls to our helpline relate to serious physical or sexual violence occurring in care homes, compared to 74% of cases occurring in the victim-survivors own home.
‘This shows how important it is that everyone who looks after, and supports, vulnerable older people join forces to change public perception and to make sure older people’s rights are upheld.
‘Together we can develop a Violence Against Older People strategy that is fit for the present day and is backed by up-to-date research, opinion and the experience of victim-survivors, such as those Hourglass supports. We urge care providers and those working in the social care sector to support our call and thank them for providing care and support to older vulnerable people in our society.’