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Covid-19: Domestic Abuse of Older People

Volume 808: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support older people at risk from domestic abuse while restrictions are in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting all victims of domestic abuse. The You Are Not Alone campaign signposts support to all victims, and the Government have allocated more than £116,000 this year to the charity Hourglass, which supports the elderly. The Government are working closely with domestic abuse organisations, including those representing elderly victims, to assess ongoing needs.

Is the Minister aware that the situation facing older victims has deteriorated significantly since the pandemic, as they are faced with an impossibly cruel situation in which they are afraid to go out for fear of contracting Covid and afraid to stay at home for fear of being abused? Will the Minister ensure that the needs of older victims are recognised in the Domestic Abuse Bill, especially those over the age of 74, about whom no data is collected? There is an urgent need for support for that age group.

My Lords, we are acutely aware of the issues the noble Baroness points out, and we are trying to assist older people, in particular, as this pandemic goes on. We talked about the over-74s recently in Oral Questions, and we need to work with the ONS to get a true picture of what they are facing in, as the noble Baroness says, neither wanting to go out nor wanting to stay in their homes for fear of abuse.

My Lords, as the Minister has commented, at present, we only collect data on those aged between 60 and 74. While she is making a commitment to work with the ONS to collect data on those aged over 74, will she commit to removing this age limit so we can highlight the experience of this older demographic?

To correct the right reverend Prelate’s assertion that we only collect data on those from the ages of 60 to 74: it is up to the age of 74. The issue we need to get to the heart of is robust data. There is no attempt to exclude that age group; there is a lack of statistically significant data. I commit to working with the ONS so we may provide, perhaps in another way, the robust data we need.

My Lords, Covid has taken lives and inflicted havoc on many. For some, this tragically means becoming victims of a destructive, and sometimes dangerous, domestic environment. While this affects the young as well as the old, I think we would all agree that the risks are intensified for older people due to lockdown, as others have said. Does the Minister agree that we should seek to build a support structure around them? A good place to start is with the policy championed by the former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt when he committed to named GPs for frail patients to ensure that help was just a phone call away to someone they trusted and knew. Are the Government still committed to that worthwhile policy?

It is sheer happenstance, but I was talking to a GP’s wife yesterday, particularly about elderly people’s access to their GP—a need acutely enhanced by the pandemic. She said to me, and I am sure it is true throughout the country, that she was happy to ring or email her GP, but older people really value face-to-face support for all sorts of reasons, whether they are victims of domestic violence or not. It certainly is one good way for GPs to ascertain whether somebody is vulnerable. I also point to the troubled families programme, in which agencies work together to spot signs of problems within family situations.

My Lords, domestic abuse, including that of the elderly, is on the increase due to the pressures of Covid-19, in all communities, including—[Inaudible]. Would the Minister agree that a simple, broad-brush approach to tackling domestic violence is not enough, and that close, informed co-operation between the Government and movers and shakers in these communities is needed in addition to the less productive, routine, round-table meetings?

A bit of the noble Lord’s question was missed out but I heard him saying that we could not just adopt a “one approach fits all” method in terms of domestic abuse. I heard him say that it is on the increase during lockdown, and we certainly have had more calls to helplines. I agree that we need to think carefully about certain sections of our communities—those who might be isolated because of age or other reasons—and stand ready to support them. I hope that the Domestic Abuse Bill will be that landmark occasion that changes the lives of many people.

Does the noble Baroness agree that in order to prevent abuse, we must provide as much support as possible in caring situations? Social care services are already under huge pressure, with many curtailed or withdrawn due to the pandemic. Many of the care staff employed to provide these services are from the European Union and will not be available in the new year. What provision is the noble Baroness’s department making to replace these vital workers?

The noble Baroness points to a situation which has gone on for far too long where we have imported some of our domestic labour at lower wages. We—and certainly providers of social care services—need to think about paying decent wages to do what is an incredibly valuable job.

The Home Office’s You Are Not Alone initiative, which the Minister referred to, failed to include the needs of older victims of abuse. The message encouraging victims to leave home and seek refuge, despite lockdown rules for over-70s, did not take into account the complexity of leaving home and an abusive environment for older people, which is a solution only if there is appropriate alternative accommodation and their care and support needs can be met. Given the shocking figures, will the Minister ensure that the Home Office works with charities to include and develop targeted activity and awareness for older people as part of the “You are not alone” campaign and ensure the inclusion of the needs of older people in the Domestic Abuse Bill?

The Domestic Abuse Bill in fact includes domestic abuse against anyone regardless of age or sex. The noble Baroness is absolutely right about considering the needs of older people. Even without the data, we know that people of all ages face domestic abuse within their homes. Therefore, on that basis, it is paramount that that support is available.

My Lords, as the Minister pointed out last week, older people do not tend to fill in the self-completion module of the National Crime Survey, as it is done on a tablet. In agreeing to find a solution with the ONS, might the Government consider something as simple as a written questionnaire?

I think it might come to that, because there is definitely a problem when we have data for only a certain section of the population. Since my noble friend asked that last time, I have brought it back to the department. We need to find a way through for this problem, because we simply do not have the database from which to provide that support. We know it happens; we just do not know how many people it happens to.

My Lords, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has launched a strategy with 27 organisations to identify gaps in data collection across organisations to analyse and identify trends and key issues for older people. It means the Welsh Government’s performance data collection on safeguarding will be shared with Public Health Wales’s data collection on the experiences of older people. This will lead to direct action and a more co-ordinated response from services. Would the Minister agree that a strategy that gathers robust, clear and age-disaggregated data can be used to better understand the experiences of older people who are at risk of experiencing abuse at this time?

The noble Baroness makes a valid point, and I would be interested to see the outcome of that analysis. In working together, we can help alleviate some of the problems older people are facing in this area.