To mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) 2023 we have spoken to the charity Hourglass, which has been supporting older victims of domestic abuse for the last 30 years. Three years ago research by Hourglass found that almost three million older people had been affected by abuse in the country. They are calling for the Government to support a Violence Against Older People strategy. We spoke to Nick Kelly who is the Parliamentary Officer at Hourglass to find out more.
Why is this such a significant day?
It’s the only international day when the abuse of older people is in the spotlight. The issue is seldom spoken about or acknowledged. WEAAD is rare as it helps raise global awareness of the abuse and neglect faced by millions of older people across the planet.
In the UK, a study conducted by Hourglass in 2020 found that over 2.7 million older people had been affected by abuse. Yet funding and support for older victims is significantly less than that given to other demographics. In the recent second reading of the Victims and Prisoners Bill in the House of Commons, older people were not mentioned once.
With an ageing population, we can no longer look the other way and pretend abuse of older people does not happen.
What types of abuse do older survivors you support face?
We get a significant amount of calls around financial, psychological, sexual and physical abuse. Our calls and cases have risen from 4,000 in 2018 to over 30,000 in 2023. There are complicating factors and the pandemic saw our phone lines hit new levels. Sadly, the number of cases has not returned to pre-pandemic levels and the types of abuse have diversified.
We have seen that sexual assault cases are on the rise. Abuse against men, around 40% of our caseload, has also increased with financial abuse being a major contributing factor.
There is a misconception most abuse of older people takes place in residential homes but in fact the majority of abuse occurs in the victim’s own home – most often perpetrated by intimate partners and other family members. The very people they trust and rely on.
What unique barriers and experiences do these older survivors face?
Formal reporting of abuse committed against older people is extremely low and conviction rates almost non-existent. Life expectancy for older people who have experienced abuse is sadly much shortened, meaning victims have often died before perpetrators have been brought to justice.
In most cases reported to Hourglass, the perpetrator is a close family member or associate. Whilst this is not unique to older victims, the difference is that in many cases the victim-survivor depends on the perpetrator for care or are their only social contact.
There are over 800,000 people living in the UK with dementia, with that set to double in the next 20 years. For people living with forms of dementia and their families, additional support and guidance is needed.
Finally, the lasting power of attorney creates significant loopholes where abuse can occur. Whilst Hourglass is working closely with Government to look at tightening this legislation, the systematic violation of trust, leading to a growing number of abuse cases, makes older people a unique part of society that demands support, care and increased protection.
What impact has the cost-of-living crisis had on the older survivors you support?
Put simply, more and more people are struggling to cope and therefore older people are being put under pressure to hand over inheritances earlier. This is often leaving the older person struggling themselves or even left with nothing. We have seen big increases in economic or financial abuse cases since the cost-of-living crisis began.
A common sign of financial/economic abuse is the deliberate isolation of an older person from friends and family, resulting in the caregiver alone having total control.
Hourglass is pushing hard for governments across the UK to take this issue more seriously and to help provide lifeline payments for older people when they need support most.
Can you tell me a bit more about why the work Hourglass does is so important for these survivors?
Hourglass (Safer Ageing) is the only UK-wide charity calling time on the harm, abuse and exploitation of older people. We offer a freephone 24/7 helpline and a casework service to support victim-survivors. Our charity is 30 years old in 2023, meaning we have three decades of experience supporting older people who have experienced abuse or neglect.
Whilst the charity works closely with other specialist organisations and agencies across the UK, it is often only Hourglass who have the unique knowledge and understanding to deal with this very complicated and challenging area of abuse and neglect. We work to create safety plans tailored to the unique circumstances of each victim to work towards recovery and moving on..
Hourglass has a growing team of Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs) in the south and east of England alongside Community Response teams across the rest of the UK. But we are currently only able to deal with the tip of the iceberg and waiting lists are increasing.
What is Hourglass calling for in World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2023?
Hourglass is using WEADD as a call for support for a Violence Against Older People framework across the four nations. A strategy to protect older people and promote a safer ageing society. We have already worked hard to underline the urgent need for parity with other forms of abuse in terms of policy development, funding and tougher sentences. A Violence Against Older People strategy would help give this under-researched and often misunderstood issue a degree of parity and prioritise the development of better safeguards to deal with what is fast becoming an epidemic of abuse.