My Lords, I support this group of amendments and specifically wish to speak to Amendment 157, to which I have added my name. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 covers coercive or controlling behaviours by family members who live with their victims; this amendment would ensure that this is broadened to include those family members who reside at a different address.
As I outlined at Second Reading, many older people suffer from domestic abuse, which all too often goes unreported. Until very recently, the ONS did not collect data for those aged 75 and over in the national crime survey. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the ONS has stopped asking questions around sensitive topics including domestic abuse and sexual assault, so it will not be until sometime after the pandemic that the ONS will start publishing data on the abuse of older people.
From the information we do have, however, we know that the abuse of older people is often committed by family members and victims can be reluctant to report this. In cases where parents are abused by their children, they often feel that the abuse reflects on them as parents—and indeed it might. The Metropolitan Police and other UK police forces have said that this is a significant factor in the underreporting of abuse against older people.
The organisation Hourglass, formerly Action on Elder Abuse, which I originally set up with the help of the Department of Health and of which I am a patron, has a helpline to support older people who are victims of abuse. The most frequent perpetrators recorded by the helpline are sons and daughters, making up 30% of all calls in 2019 and 38% of calls in the first six months of the pandemic, from March to September 2020.
Abuse against older people, like abuse against people of any age, takes many forms, as we know. Hourglass reports that, in 2019, 40% of calls to its abuse helpline involved financial abuse. Very often, this form of abuse is carried out by family members who do not reside at the same address as the victim.
One way this financial abuse occurs is through the use of technology and the digital exclusion of older people. In June 2020, the International Longevity Centre UK, of which I am chief executive, published a paper entitled Straddling the Divide, which highlighted the issues that many older people face with digital exclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic. The report found that, in the UK,
“around 11.9 million people lack the digital skills they need for everyday life.”
It also found that
“only 47% of adults aged 75 years and over recently used the internet.”
At a time when older people have been told to stay home and shield, many have not been able to go to the bank as they have in the past. More than ever before, many now rely on others to manage their finances online. Very often, this is done by a close family member and sadly, as we know, this can lead to financial abuse.
Such abuse is often coupled with controlling and coercive behaviours by the perpetrator where other forms of abuse, such as physical or psychological abuse, are not used. It is crucial that the offence of controlling or coercive behaviours by family members includes those not residing with the victim, as this would strengthen the law in protecting against the abuse of older people—which, I hope all noble Lords agree, is a serious and often urgent issue that must be resolved as a matter of urgency.