Make the abuse and neglect of older people a crime

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This is a UK-wide petition which will be sent to both the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments

The harm, abuse and neglect of older people has gone on for far too long. We are calling for such cruelty to be an aggravated criminal offence that calls for perpetrators to receive statutory minimum jail sentences across all four nations of the United Kingdom. This covers physical and sexual assault, financial and psychological abuse, and neglect.

The Criminal Justice system is failing to protect older victims of abuse and neglect. Most cases are never prosecuted – and many should be – and police cautions are used as a cheap and easy way of avoiding the time and cost of prosecution. And even when cases are taken to court the result is invariably a suspended or deferred sentence or community service. When is this going to end?

Many Hate Crimes are charged as aggravated offences, in recognition of the fact that basic charges are not enough. We want the same recognition of the impact of abuse on older people. 

Academic research and independent polling suggests that around 10% of people aged 65 or over in the UK experience some form of abuse each year. That's around 1 million people. Despite this, in 2015/16, Crown Prosecution Service statistics revealed there were just 3,012 successful convictions of crimes against older people, representing just 0.3% of total prevalence. This is a lower proportion than for racially motivated crimes (10.3%), homophobic and transphobic crimes (4.2%), domestic abuse (3.8%) and disability hate crime (1%). And in 2016/17 (the most recent available figures), convictions actually fell to 2,856.

Even when cases do reach the courts, offenders are often let off with flimsy sentences. All too often, we see elder abusers escaping with suspended sentences, fines or community service instead of jail time.

An aggravated offence of elder abuse would take account of the frailty of victims and the circumstances of the abuse. Theft does not kill younger victims, but it can kill older ones because trauma has a negative effect on the immune system of older people. Similarly physical or sexual abuse, while traumatic and devastating at any age, have a more extreme effect on an older person. If we accept the argument for aggravated offences for racially and religiously motivated crimes, why not for our older people?

This new legislation would also allow authorities to highlight the nature of a perpetrator's offence and officially label the offender as an individual who has targeted an older person. This will not only underline the seriousness of the offence of their crimes but will also enable police, prisons and probation services to easily identify assess the risk each offender presents. It will also ensure that agencies hold accurate records.

Join our petition and help us fight for an aggravated offence of elder abuse. Not only will this act as a deterrent but it will mean that perpetrators can be brought to justice and older victims and their families can be confident that their suffering will be taken seriously.

Action on Elder Abuse is a UK-wide charity that aims to protect and prevent the abuse of vulnerable older people. It has a national freephone helpline open Monday to Friday, from 09:00 to 17:00, offering confidential support and information. Call 080 8808 8141 to speak to one of our experienced advisors.