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Children and Vulnerable Adults: Abuse — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:41 pm on 26th June 2014.

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Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative 3:41 pm, 26th June 2014

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Walmsley for securing and introducing this debate. I congratulate her on her constructive and knowledgeable speech, which has once again shown how much she knows about this subject, how much she has studied it and the leadership that she has given in trying to cure some of the evils she has highlighted.

She talked a lot about the abuse of children. I want to focus today on vulnerable adults, the other party to this compendium debate. Noble Lords will be aware that on 14 May, earlier this year, my noble friend Lady Cumberlege introduced an important short debate entitled, “Elderly People: Abuse”. All the speeches in that debate should be read again, and they are wholly relevant to the context of our debate this afternoon. I want to highlight some of the points made in a number of those speeches.

I start with the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, in which he highlighted the importance of avoiding turning a safeguarding policy into a mechanistic exercise. Each person who is vulnerable or the subject of care should be treated as a unique individual, and the carer should be alert and have developed powers of observation. Although the pressure on the person concerned is undoubtedly great, they should appear to be unrushed. Above all, those who look after elderly, vulnerable people should not be on autopilot. I also agree with what the noble Lord said: that the human qualities of care and sharing should never be forgotten or lost from view.

In that same debate, the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, warned against institutions with what he called a tick-box culture, which can be very inhumane and impersonal. In this context, I ask the Minister whether she can indicate any progress with care certification of the individual carers. I would also like some system for evaluating the quality of individual care homes. We do that regularly with restaurants, and we all know the star system. Why cannot we have something similar with care homes, so that we know the degree of quality of each home?

In that same debate, the speeches that really resonated with me were those made by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said, caring for vulnerable adults is not a simple easy matter. As we all know, the old can be very obstinate and difficult. I especially think of people such as me, who cannot hear very easily. Hearing loss often leads to frustration, and that frustration can so readily become aggression. I hope that people will learn that if the person who is slightly deaf cannot hear something, they should not start shouting, because that really makes it worse. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg was right when he said how,

“difficult and taxing, both physically and mentally, the job of caring for elderly people really is”.—[ Official Report , 14/5/14; col. 1910.]

What we hope to see, I think all would agree, is that, whenever possible, people should be able to stay in their own home. That requires regular visits when help is needed. An emergency call button is a useful form of assistance. Support needs to be given to family members, who often give dedicated and—I emphasise—voluntary work. I am aware of a 102 year-old lady who lives on her own and is looked after by regular visits throughout the week by two of her nieces, one of whom is over 80 and the other over 90. Both have to travel quite a distance to get to her and they do it selflessly, week in and week out.

Lastly, and most important of all in ending what is really unthinking abuse of vulnerable people, is education, particularly of the younger generation. Other cultures are more fortunate, in many ways, than our own. We have lost the cohesion of completeness of family circle. This was highlighted in the speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I am lucky: I have 12 grandchildren; they are all young, all loving, all patient and all tolerant. They all communicate and are all great fun and they are all over the world. However, for many people, for those older than my grandchildren, grandparents can be tiresome, irritating and irrelevant.

They are often regarded as oddball curiosities who do not understand texting, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and the like. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford had a message for us: he said that we should become more conscious of our common humanity. He drew on his experience of Africa to refer to the word “ubuntu”. We must learn afresh the quality of belonging together and do so with understanding and patience.