Let's seize the opportunity to tackle elder abuse
96% of respondents to recent poll backed calls for tougher penalties for crimes against older people. Given this strong public backing, and the very real need for this change, Giles Watling MP is using his Adjournment Debate to call for elder abuse to become an aggravated offence.
Elder abuse is a terrible and poorly understood crime. At its heart is an ‘expectation of trust’ that an older person may rightly establish with another person, but which may be subsequently violated, leading to physical, financial, psychological, and sexual abuse.
There are around one million victims of elder abuse every year in the UK, and despite this troubling statistic, this issue is often overlooked at the national level. In Parliament there have only been a handful of mentions in recent years, even though this is a real and growing concern for many people across this country – including my own constituents, 32.4% of whom are aged over 65.
That is why I will be using an Adjournment Debate tomorrow to draw attention to this important issue, and this is just the start of the Parliamentary awareness campaign that I have planned. Because it is only by properly understanding elder abuse that we as MPs can hope to tackle it.
And when it comes to elder abuse, I am talking about all abuse, regardless of its location. Many will have heard about abuse in a care setting, there have been prominent incidents in our care homes in recent years, and these certainly need to be stamped out. That is why the Government introduced a wilful neglect offence in 2015, so there is now criminal liability where a person has been placed under the care of a medical professional.
But, while such positive action is welcome, this new offence has failed to prevent abuse in care. In 2016, a resident in my constituency was defrauded out of £57,000 by his carer, who was only sentenced to 15 months in prison – unfortunately, only 0.3% of reported abuse incidents result in a successful criminal conviction, and convicted abusers often escape with flimsy sentences and trivial fines.
What is more, this new offence, by its very nature, fails to prevent the abuse of older people in their own homes. Once again, we know about this all too well in Clacton, where, in 2013, 16 people were arrested for financially abusing 39 people – all the victims were aged between 65 and 99.
So, despite the Government’s best efforts, elder abuse continues to be a problem, victims are still struggling to get sufficient redress, and there is no deterrent for would be abusers. We must rectify this, and we have an opportunity to do so now.
As part of the Government’s efforts to update the Hate Crime Action Plan, the Law Commission is currently undertaking a review of hate crime legislation. During this review, the Commission will consider whether to make elder abuse an aggravated offence. This would make it a requirement for courts to apply a mandatory sentencing uplift for convicted abusers. This is already the case for crimes motivated by prejudice based on someone’s race, sexual orientation, religion, or disability, so why not age?
There is strong public support for this change, with 96% of respondents to a poll conducted by Action on Elder Abuse backing calls for tougher penalties for crimes against older people. Given this strong public backing, and the very real need for this change, I will be using my Adjournment Debate to call for elder abuse to become an aggravated offence. In the coming days, I will also be writing, with a cross-party group of colleagues, to the Law Commission to push for this same outcome.
Because making elder abuse an aggravated offence is the only way to restore older people’s faith in justice and deter potential abusers. This is an easy fix for a terrible problem, and as Gary FitzGerald, Chief Executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said recently: “Frankly, such a step is long overdue.”
I am confident that the Government and the Law Commission will see it that way too.
Giles Watling is Conservative MP for Clacton.
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