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Domestic Abuse: Older People

Volume 816: debated on Tuesday 30 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that older people (1) are aware that domestic abuse can include physical abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, financial abuse, neglect, and coercive control, and (2) are informed about the sources of information and support available to those suffering such abuse.

My Lords, the statutory definition of domestic abuse encompasses sexual, violent, coercive, controlling, psychological, emotional and economic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Act’s wider provisions, accompanying guidance and our long-term action plan, alongside a dedicated strategy and funding to specialist services, including Hourglass, will further support legislative implementation. These transformative measures will bolster our response to domestic abuse, increasing awareness, information and support for victims, and providing greater protection for vulnerable groups, including older people.

I was a bit disappointed with the Minister’s response. As she will know, domestic abuse as far as older people are concerned quite often takes a different form; it is quite often hidden away and not recognised. How much support can be given to victims that, in many cases, differ so much from the image of a young woman, for example, who suffers from domestic abuse? Would the Minister further agree with me that there is no government body in England, like we have in Wales with the Older People’s Commissioner? Would she commit to at least look at the possibility of having a commissioner in England for older people, as this would go some way to helping the problem?

In the past I have spoken to the Welsh commissioner, and I commend the work she is doing. But I also commend the work our commissioner is doing. I know that she is dedicated to all aspects of domestic abuse across all ages and will be keeping a very close eye on the implementation of the Act.

My Lords, with increasing numbers of bank branches being closed on high streets and the impact of Covid, the elderly vulnerable are having to negotiate the choppy waters of online banking like everybody else, in an environment where there are large numbers of online scams and frauds. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to offer training and resources to try to protect the elderly vulnerable as they engage with online financial services?

The right reverend Prelate points to a real problem which particularly targets the vulnerable, never mind the elderly—who are obviously in that bracket. We have Action Fraud, which is trying to tackle the problem. Some information is also being put out to help to guard against people being scammed. I think every one of us has at some point had messages appearing on their email which appear to be genuinely from their bank but, in fact, are not.

Can the Minister update the House on the statutory guidance on detecting and preventing the abuse of older people which the Home Office was working on after the Domestic Abuse Act received Royal Assent? This statutory guidance was a commitment by the Government in response to the two amendments I put forward on Report of the Bill and is a much-needed tool to combat the abuse of vulnerable adults.

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the engagement that I had with her throughout the course of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is now an Act. She is right that, to accompany it, draft statutory guidance has been developed to help provide an understanding of what might constitute domestic abuse and the impact on victims, including children, who will be recognised as victims in their own right. As required under Section 84 of the Act, the guidance has been subject to consultation, which began on 3 August and closed on 14 September. The responses are being analysed, and updates to the guidance are being made, taking into account the representations received, the content and the clarity.

Elderly victims may face barriers to getting help if they are dependent on their abuser, have a disability, lack access to digital services or are simply frightened or ashamed of going to the police—so healthcare practitioners very much need to look out for abuse. So can the Minister assure the House that plans are in place to, first, increase mandatory and ongoing training for practitioners in how to recognise an old person suffering abuse and, secondly, improve links between the NHS and the police so that they can distinguish between the impact of a condition such as dementia and the results of a pattern of abusive behaviour?

What the noble Baroness points to there is the sheer complexity of abuse, dependency and what the various different agencies need to look out for in identifying and dealing with this—and, yes, it is absolutely dependent on multi- agency working, co-operation and information sharing.

My Lords, we tend to think mainly of women being abused by their male partners. Could the Minister tell the House what research has been done on the abuse of older men by their female partners? Is she confident that support will be available as readily for those living in rural areas as it is for those in urban or city settings?

In the Crime Survey for England and Wales 2020, it is estimated that 4.4% of women aged 60 to 74 were victims of domestic abuse, as were an estimated 1.9% of men—so there is definitely evidence of men aged 60 to 74 being victims of domestic abuse. In a rural setting, it must be very isolating and frightening, and it is important that, through the Act that we have brought through Parliament, all victims are reached, whether they are rural or urban.

My Lords, we know that the pandemic and lockdown have exacerbated the likelihood of domestic violence generally. We know that people over 61 are more likely to experience abuse than those under 61, and that 48% of those who do are disabled—and it may take them twice as long to seek help. So how much research have the Government done to highlight this prevalence? How much resource is being put into providing support and safe places that are dedicated to older victims of domestic abuse?

A significant amount of funding has been put in place, but the noble Baroness is right to point to research. We have had significant engagement with all parts of the support sector. As I said at the beginning, we are most grateful to Hourglass for the support that it provides.

My Lords, given that the abuse faced by older people is different, are the Government satisfied that they are providing targeted support, guidance and resources to local authorities to ensure that there is greater awareness, and do they have plans to actually monitor and assess the impact of the Domestic Abuse Act on the elderly?

The noble Baroness will know that all legislation that is put through and agreed in Parliament is monitored, reviewed and checked to see whether it is fit for purpose and whether gaps emerge in the fullness of time. She is absolutely right about monitoring the effects of the legislation, particularly on older people. These may be the same as or different from those experienced by younger people, as she said—but, certainly, it is a relatively recent phenomenon that this has come out.

Research from SafeLives indicates that up to half of all abuse against people in older life is perpetrated by members of their family, particularly acting together. We have seen increases in financial abuse in particular. What more can be done to educate older people to detect the signs of this kind of abuse, often very subtle in its application, and to seek outside support and help?

The noble Lord points to some terrible frailties that can emerge from a family member being relied on to be the carer of the person being abused, and the abused person being too frightened to complain about the carer. I have heard about many such cases, particularly where financial abuse is concerned. In bringing forward the Domestic Abuse Act we have not only gone some way in terms of the prosecution of offences but have significantly raised awareness, particularly among health- care professionals.

Will the Minister consider providing some special short-term funding to organisations that can tailor both the advice that they give and the support that they provide to elderly victims of domestic abuse, so that we can have a better understanding of exactly how services co-ordinating can support these vulnerable people?

I think that we probably need both long-term and short-term funding to provide support. I have talked about Hourglass, which received £50,000 of funding to support activity in 2020-21, and an additional £106,000 to further bolster its services as part of the response to the Covid crisis, which must have placed some vulnerable people at even greater risk.