Friday, June 15, 2007

Elderly ‘Must Get New Rights to Protect Them From Culture of Abuse’

by Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent , Times OnLine

Elderly people must have the same legal safeguards as children, experts said yesterday after research found that almost 350,000 pensioners were abused in their own homes by carers last year.

Most of the abuse was at the hands of family members, with spouses and partners responsible for 51 per cent.

Much of that was classified as neglect, often as a result of the partner being elderly, too, and no longer capable of caring properly for their loved one.

However there was also widespread evidence of theft, fraud and misuse of power of attorney by other family members.

Formal carers, friends and neighbours were also found to be responsible for physical, psychological and financial abuse The research, a two-year study, was conducted by the National Centre for Social Research and King’s College London, funded by the Government and Comic Relief.

Researchers said they believed the 342,000 cases of abuse represent “the tip of the iceberg” of elder abuse. For the purposes of complete accuracy, they did not interview anyone with dementia, a group known to be particularly vulnerable to abuse.

The research challenges the prevailing wisdom that older people are far better off being looked after in their own home by family and friends than in residential care.

Campaigners said the report showed new legal safeguards needed to be in place and Paul Burstow, Liberal MP for Sutton and Cheam, tabled a Commons motion calling for change.

To protect children from abuse in their own home, the law states that social workers, child protection officers and police can immediately gain access to a young person when maltreatment is suspected.

However, when an older person is at risk of abuse, the authorities have to gain permission from the family to see them.

Gary FitzGerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said: “We need the authorities to have the same powers they have to tackle child abuse. The stark message is that two thirds of abusers are partners or other family members, with three quarters over the age of 65 themselves,” he said.

Ivan Lewis, Minister for Social Care, said he would review all current regulations and was prepared to consider new laws where necessary.

“I want people to be as outraged by the abuse of an older person as they are by the abuse of a child,” Mr Lewis said.

“Sadly, we are nowhere near that yet as a society but that culture has to change.”

Although the report, entitled the UK Study of Abuse and Neglect, emphasised the extent of abuse at the hands of family and friends, it also said that home helps and care workers were responsible for many cases of maltreatment.

The researchers are working on a report on the experiences of elderly people living in residential accommodation. Cases of abuse in care homes are already well documented.

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