Special Briefing – June 2023
The World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15th June is an opportunity to imagine a world without elder abuse and discuss concrete strategies for change. Older people’s organisations across Europe have collected practices that can help pave the way for ageing well in the EU.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in six people over the age of 60 is a victim of abuse worldwide. This figure rises among older people in need of care, with two out of three staff in care homes reporting abuse.
In the European Union, this is exacerbated by the fact that one in three people over 65 report being target of ageism: being insulted, abused or denied services because of their age (WHO Global Report on Ageism, p. 34). A reality that appears as a blot on EU’s shared values of solidarity, equality and human rights and is likely to rise in a context of an ageing population.
How can we tackle abuse and neglect?
The causes of elder abuse and neglect are multifactorial, which means that comprehensive policies are needed to prevent it. Measures that empower older persons through accessible environments, support their autonomy and independence by respecting their rights, preferences, decisions and informed choices in health, care, finances, and many other domains are essential. A world free of abuse requires systemic change at all levels, from data collection and consumer protection to effective redress and support for victims.
“The backbone of the fight against elder abuse is equality for all ages. Only by celebrating and respecting older people as truly equals can we ensure dignity in old age.”
Maciej Kucharczyk, AGE Secretary General
A comprehensive and intersectoral approach to elder abuse is needed with a focus on the fight against ageism and the promotion of quality care. We need more prevention, data collection and training in the field of long-term care, as we underlined on many occasion at EU and global level, and in this recent contribution to a UN consultation. Some of our calls have found resonance with the EU’s Care Strategy and the Council recommendation on long-term care last year.
The EU-funded MARVOW 2.0 project, in which AGE is a partner, aims to strengthen coordination in the prevention gender-based violence, addressing both victims and perpetrators of violence (read our article).
We furthermore advocate for maintaining a recognition of older persons as potential victims of crime as part of the EU Directive protecting victims of crime.
Ageism and the resulting lack of societal awareness render elder abuse, and more generally older victims of crime, invisible.
The lack of accessibility of our everyday environments is also a key determinant of elder abuse, as we mention above. This includes the rapid digitalisation of essential everyday services that put many older people in situation of dependency and vulnerability (read our article). Ensuring digital inclusion at all stages of life as a must in a European Union that champions both human rights and digitisation and a fundamental step in preventing elder abuse. The digital training materials developed as part of the FAITh project provides here an example of useful practice.
More broadly, we need a comprehensive European strategy that integrates the fight against elder abuse into an overall objective of inclusion in all EU relevant policies. This is why we advocate for an EU-level age equality strategy that would ensure equality in practice at all stages of our life. The upcoming EU elections in June 2024 will be an opportunity for us to further raise the importance of this issue to policymakers and to the next incoming Commission.
Recommendations and examples of national practices
How can we fight abuse and neglect concretely? This was the topic of discussions and exchanges of practices among AGE members on the occasion of the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Their conclusions confirmed what we mention above: Elder abuse needs to be addressed by holistic policies that prevent abuse by involving all relevant stakeholders. Next to prevention, mechanisms that broadly enable older persons to exercise their rights and to report abuse are a main priority: Their main focus should be to:
- Collect gender and age disaggregated data on elder abuse
As a lack of relevant data have been reported in many EU contries:
- Abuse and neglect of people who live at home in the community are often underreported in all EU Member States.
- In Serbia, there is no available data on violence against older persons in retirement homes.
- The European Institute for Gender Equality only includes domestic violence for persons under 74 in their statistics.
- In Hungary, the most recent data available is only from 2010.
- In Cyprus, there are no official surveys and most persons in need for care have live-in carers at home, for cultural and financial reasons. Monitoring is provided mainly by families in both residential and home care settings.
- There is no mandatory reporting of elder abuse cases and no specific law to protect adults at risk in Norway on national level. Reporting mechanisms exist on local level only in some places.
- In Sweden, the national board of health and welfare has a special project on violence in close relationships from 2017-2026, expressively for persons of all ages – too often, older persons are excluded from such surveys.
The lack of inclusive data collection – in particular regarding violence against older women – has been underlined at the level of the United Nations by the UN Independent Expert on older people in her statement to mark the WEAAD.
- Ensure universal laws and policies that protect against elder abuse, as for example:
- the law concerning discrimination in Sweden goes beyond the EU employment directive and protects from age discrimination in all walks of life, beyond employment. It also created the mandate for an ombudsperson who one can turn to. Ombudspersons have also been created in France, for instance.
- the care ‘framework legislation’ in the UK forms part of the care legislation (the Care Act 2014), and comprises policies and procedures, training for health and care staff, for police and others who may work with adults at risk of harm. In England, there is regulation of care and support settings via the Care Quality Commission, which provides both registration and monitoring. Inspectors visit and assess care settings across a number of criteria, including safety and protection from harm. Similar regulators exist in other UK nations.
- A strong consumer protection framework can help in addressing cases of financial abuse, such as credit traps or scams. Legislation on consumer credit, the right to withdraw from contracts concluded by phone or online and the prohibition of cold-calling (unsolicited advertisement) are examples for this.
- Involve and coordinate the diverse stakeholders, as for instance:
- in Norway where municipalities have adopted a model called SAFEST, which allows for interdisciplinary action between police and social care organisations.
- To effectively tackle abuse of older women, different sectors of society need to work together. The MARVOW project developed a multi-agency response model to help protect and support older women at risk of abuse, as well as to hold their perpetrators accountable.
- Improve prevention, as for example:
- In the UK, there are some helplines and awareness-raising campaigns that have been developed and help and support via NGOs.
- In the UK and the context of institutional care, there are procedures, including pre-recruitment criminal record checks for care staff, disclosure and a barring system for professionals who already committed abuse.
- In Serbia, there is a curriculum for care workers for older people and social workers on how to recognise violence and how to discuss these issues with victims.
- In Belgium our member Respect Senior organizes training for managers of residential care homes.
- In Sweden, the national board of health and welfare gave guidance about violence against older persons in long-term care settings that specifically addressed the local level of government.
- Ensure inspection and monitoring of care services
- In the UK, a Care Quality Commission visits places of care regularly.
- Better inform about existing services and reporting mechanisms, such as
- in France and Poland where special commissions at hospital level to detect cases of abuse and neglect and provide access to justice.
- in Sweden, the national board of health and welfare provided national guidelines on violence about older people in long-term care settings and included awareness-raising, information on services, and how to complain.
- In Hungary, the national ombudsperson is important to obtain access to justice. Some local ombudspersons for patients’ rights exist as well, little information is available about them.
We all want to live longer, fulfilling lives. It’s about time that we give ourselves the means to achieve it!
- World Elder Abuse Awareness Day around Europe: see what our members are doing
- World Awareness Day on Elder Abuse – AGE members stand up! (2021)
- World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: ways forward (2022)
- Statement of the UN independent Expert on older people: Human rights experts call for inclusive data collection to end gender-based violence in old age
Photo (cropped) from Andrea Leopardi on Unsplash