Report (2nd Day)

Part of Care Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 14th October 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench 7:00 pm, 14th October 2013

My Lords, I am sorry to be popping up and down. This amendment and the others are about elder abuse. I have been involved in the issue of elder abuse for very many years—it is something that I am very familiar with. It is an issue which we have not, as yet, focused on nearly enough in this country. We have recently learnt, from data from the Health & Social Care Information Centre and Age UK, that there has been a “disturbing” rise in the number of reports of possible abuse of vulnerable elderly people in England. Unfortunately, the majority of this abuse is, as we know, by people who are close to the person—that is, family, carers and friends living in the same household, because the majority of abuse happens in people’s homes.

We have seen a 4% rise in the number of cases of alleged abuse referred for investigation in the past year. I urge the Government to do more to protect vulnerable adults. It is a serious issue and, in my view, the danger might unwittingly be increased as a result of some of the positive things that we are doing; for example, personal care planning, which gives people the opportunity to give money to relatives and to use the money for care which has not been planned in the way it used to be. There are many more doors for abuse opening than there used to be, so we have to prevent abuse even more effectively than we did in the past.

In response to the situation, the BBC has reported a Department of Health spokesman as saying:

“No-one should suffer abuse or neglect in a place they are meant to feel safe in, whether this is in their own home or in a care setting”.

Nobody is going to argue about that, but we must put this principle into practice and seek out abuse rather than passively wait for victims to appear. Sadly, some of those victims will never appear. We know why: people are not going to report their son or daughter who is hitting them, being violent or stealing their money because this might make them appear a bad mother or bring the family into disrepute. There are all sorts of reasons why very few people complain.

I am aware that new measures are being considered to make directors of care homes and hospitals personally and criminally accountable for failures in care if they allow neglect or abuse to take place. However, this will not really help people who are being abused in their own homes.

Figures from the Health & Social Care Information Centre have shown that the number of cases referred for investigation by councils in England rose from 108,000 in 2011-12 to 112,000 in 2012-13. While 45% of these cases took place in a care home, 38% of the alleged abuse took place in the older person’s own home. Physical abuse and neglect were the most common types of abuse reported. In 6% of cases the abuser was the older person’s partner; in 16% it was another family member; and in 37% it was a social care worker. Three-fifths of the referrals were for vulnerable adults—those described in the report as people who may be in need of community care services because they are elderly or suffer mental illness, disability or another ailment and are aged 65 or older.

I endorse the expressed views of Age UK and Action on Elder Abuse in that any abuse of older people is unacceptable. We need a zero-tolerance approach to any abuse, whether through neglect, financial manipulation or physical or mental cruelty. My greatest fear is that there are still many cases that are not reported. This amendment would assist the authorities in gaining access to such victims where their abusers may naturally be the very individuals preventing legitimate access.

In my first proposed new clause, I seek to support Action on Elder Abuse in its claim that there are situations where victims of abuse are imprisoned in their homes by a perpetrator who subsequently denies access to adult safeguarding staff. In such circumstances there are no current legal means by which access can be achieved. There is need, therefore, for a power of access for confidential interview, but to occur only where the reasonable suspicion of a social worker or another practitioner is tested by application to a court, which would consider whether to authorise such access. This is available in the Scottish Act and it is proposed in the Welsh Bill through application to a justice of the peace.

In my second proposed new clause, I seek to rectify the fact that there is also currently no duty on agencies to notify a local authority if they believe that an adult is at risk of abuse. Local authorities cannot be expected to identify all abused people by themselves, or to rely on the goodwill of others to make referrals. There is a need to underline the responsibility of all agencies to report if they reasonably believe that an adult is at risk.

My third proposed new clause seeks to create a specific offence to protect adults with capacity who are the subject of neglect or abuse but who are not covered by the Mental Health Act or the Mental Capacity Act. In such circumstances, they can be covered by the inherent jurisdiction of the courts. That is the only way and is time-consuming, costly and not widely used in such circumstances.

Safeguarding adults review team should also include a social worker with substantial experience of safeguarding work. We really want an experienced social worker, with the support of the local police when there is not a sufficiently senior social worker, to be able to access the person in their own home. Unless we achieve that, we are not going to protect these vulnerable people, who will not report the abuse for all sorts of reasons—it may be a family history of abuse; it may be revenge on a parent for what they did in the past; it may be all sorts of reasons. If people cannot get into their home, we are not going to deal with this problem.

I know that there is a huge reluctance to demand access—we had the same story with children many years ago—but we have to have it; we have to get access in these circumstances, with the support of the judiciary. I beg to move.