One in five older people in the UK have been abused, poll finds | Older people
Abuse of older people is at “unprecedented levels” according to a leading charity.
Hourglass, formerly Action on Elder Abuse, said polling that it had commissioned suggested as many as one in five people in the UK over the age of 65 have been abused. The charity calculates that this equates to 2.7 million victims across the UK.
Previous estimates have put the figure significantly lower. The World Health Organization estimates that – globally – one in six people aged 60 and older experienced some form of abuse in the last year.
“I was genuinely shocked,” said Richard Robinson, CEO of Hourglass. “Although we’ve known for a long time that we live in a world prejudiced against older people, the results show how widespread the issue is. These figures really shine a light on the true scale of the crisis.”
Robinson said the findings confirmed what the charity has long suspected – that the abuse of older people has long been drastically under-reported to authorities.
“Our polling shows that while people know that abuse of older people is a problem in the UK today, there’s a complete disconnect between awareness of the issue and a true understanding of the role we all play in preventing abuse.”
It is believed that the pandemic may have contributed to the problem.
In March, Hourglass warned that isolation and lockdown would act like a “pressure cooker” for the abuse of older people.
The charity suggested that, under lockdown conditions, older people lacked the safeguards that would have previously existed through day-to-day contact with the outside world.
“Lockdown has undoubtedly been difficult for many of us, but for some staying at home is more than a temporary hardship – it can be downright dangerous,” said Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales. “The Covid-19 pandemic has further increased the risk of abuse for vulnerable groups, such as older people. These groups are often unable to speak out and now lack the safeguards of day-to-day contact with neighbours, friends and the outside world.”
The Hourglass survey revealed that people have conflicting views about what constitutes elder abuse. More than a third of people did not believe that “inappropriate sexual acts directed at older people” counted as abuse.
Astonishingly, almost as many – 30% – did not view “pushing, hitting, or beating an older person” as abuse. A similar proportion – 32% – did not believe that ‘taking precious items from an older relative’s home without asking’ constituted abuse.
“While I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of people don’t consider themselves to be abusers, the truth is that a troubling proportion of those we surveyed don’t actually see some very harmful behaviours as abuse,” Robinson said. “If you don’t think it’s abuse to sexually assault an older person or to take money from their bank account without permission – and more than a third of people don’t – then you’re far more likely to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. You’re part of the problem.”
“These latest findings by Hourglass are both concerning and unacceptable,” Baird said. “The abuse of older people is a significant problem and one that regrettably slips under the radar all too often.”