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Domestic Abuse: Older People

Volume 813: debated on Wednesday 14 July 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to investigate the nature of domestic abuse of older people; and what support they offer to victims of such abuse.

My Lords, building on the landmark Domestic Abuse Act, the Government will shortly publish a dedicated domestic abuse strategy, ensuring that a fitting level of attention is given to the prevalence and types of domestic abuse, including efforts to improve understanding of who is affected. We are committing to ensuring that all victims are supported and we closely monitor and assess needs and how best to meet these, together with providing continued dedicated government funding for specialist services, including for the elderly.

Reports show that there is an increased risk of older people experiencing domestic abuse, especially in relation to financial and care dependencies and barriers to reporting abuse during the pandemic. Does the Minister accept that there are no reliable figures on the abuse of older people and that therefore they are a hidden group? Much more publicity should be given by the Government about where older people can go to get advice and help. Is the Minister aware that the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has produced an information booklet to advise older victims, and will she agree to commission a similar action in England?

My Lords, I was pleased to be able to speak to the commissioner in Wales. I think it is always advantageous to learn from good practice elsewhere. We know that the number of older people experiencing domestic abuse has increased in the last year. The Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that 5.5% of adults aged 16 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020. But I look forward to seeing more refined figures in the future, which I think is what the noble Baroness is alluding to.

I thank my noble and learned friend for his question. There are various ways in which we can monitor this sort of crime. I have mentioned the Crime Survey for England and Wales. We have the National Domestic Abuse Helpline and of course we have police figures as well. So there are numerous different ways of measuring this.

My Lords, what assessment, if any, have Her Majesty’s Government made of the number of people over 65 who have been victims of non-fatal strangulation, suffocation or sexual violence? What support is provided to older victims of these types of abuse?

My Lords, that is a very valid question in light of the legislation we have just passed. I do not know the overall figures for non-fatal strangulation but certainly we saw it as sufficiently worrying that we passed legislation to ensure that it was outlawed. In terms of people over 65, the House will know that over-75s are now being included in ONS statistics. I think that is a very good move.

During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, tabled amendments on ensuring that local authorities recognised and reported abuse of older people and ensuring entry powers for social workers in situations where abuse is suspected. The Government argued that neither amendment was necessary as the necessary training and powers already exist. However, training to recognise older victims of abuse can be piecemeal across different public bodies and agencies. What is being done, and by whom, to ensure that people in public-facing roles are properly trained to recognise and report such abuse?

The noble Lord raises a really valid point: underlying all of this is the need for sufficient training to enable agencies and local authorities to refer onwards. Indeed, because tier 1 local authorities now have a duty placed upon them, that need is emphasised even further.

My Lords, I know from personal experience that the perpetrators of coercive control can be so cunningly malevolent that the victim may be oblivious to it. What steps are the Government taking to raise awareness among older people of this kind of domestic abuse?

I recognise that the noble Lord speaks from experience, which he has shared with the House on many occasions; I thank him for that. He is absolutely right to point out the very clever and cunning ways in which this abuse can take place. Older people in particular may not even realise that they are being coercively controlled. Of course, in the work that we do across agencies, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, it is up to the various people who work both within government and in the various agencies which support this work to be trained to be able to identify and then refer on these people for the help that they might need.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register as an adult social care provider. In that context, many elderly people will have quietly suffered during the pandemic, but it is also incumbent on us to have a look at those carers—not the paid carers but voluntary carers—within home settings who have had zero respite during this time. I ask my noble friend to take this back to see why social workers are now, a year or so later, not going out and doing the regular visits and reviews that they were doing before the pandemic.

My Lords, I do not have exact information for my noble friend. I totally agree with her that there may have been a lot of things going on behind closed doors that we do not yet realise. Clearly, we are opening up a bit more next Monday and, horribly, some of these things will come to light. But I will get her information on just how much one-to-one engagement has been done during the pandemic, because of course there is social distancing to be cognisant of as well.

I declare an interest as chair of the National Commission on Forced Marriage. I ask the Minister to look at ensuring that the strategy for older people includes the special needs of older victims of forced marriage.

The noble and learned Baroness is right that the effects of domestic abuse and forced marriage are not confined to any one age group. She will also know that 297 forced marriage protection orders were made last year, and that between 2008 and this year nearly 3,000 orders have been made. This must go some way to try to prevent it but the point that she makes about the ongoing trauma post forced marriage is absolutely right.

The Domestic Abuse Act removed the upper age limit from the definition of domestic abuse and included relatives in the definition of “personally connected” but the elder abuse charity Hourglass found that only 0.7% of crimes against older people result in prosecution. With more tools in their toolkit, how can the police improve on this appalling prosecution rate and make abusers understand that there will be consequences of their cruelty?

I agree with the noble Baroness: it is very concerning that that statistic evidences such low rates of conviction. It is probably multifactorial: people are unwilling to come forward, as I said earlier, perhaps not even knowing that they are victims of domestic abuse. As I said earlier, training for agencies and front-line staff will be crucial in identifying domestic abuse, bringing perpetrators to justice and supporting those victims in the future.