Experts warn of the increasing financial abuse of older people in the UK

Proposed changes to UK law could significantly increase the financial abuse of people over 65, warn experts in The BMJ today.

Professor Carolyn Stephens and her colleagues published an editorial on the Law Commission’s and Ministry of Justice’s plans for modernizing the marriage law and Lasting Powers of Attorney. They intend to simplify procedures and provide a limited amount of protections.

However, experts and lawyers claim that in their current form they will not prevent vulnerable individuals, particularly older adults with declining capacity being forced into marriage or powers of attorney.

The authors report that one in six older adults (defined as those aged 60 years or older) are victims of abuse, especially dementia.

Physical abuse can include violence, however financial and psychological abuse are the most prevalent forms of harm. They include the manipulation of older people to gain assets through wills, marriage, and abuse of the long-lasting power of attorney.

However, they argue that controlling and coercive behaviour of perpetrators, and social isolation of victims, makes the act of abuse against elders difficult to identify or address.

A House of Lords report on abuse of older people, particularly those with dementia was described as “complex” and “not properly measured, hidden and secluded.” The UK General Medical Council recommends that health care professionals be aware of different forms of abuse in order to identify those at risk. It also notes that many abuses are now considered criminal.

Stephens and colleagues acknowledge that new domestic abuse laws have been incorporated into UK law, but they point out that a lack of basic information on the extent of elder abuse, and the lack of evidence to quantify the actions taken by authorities responsible makes it difficult to know if these changes resulted in more action against abuse.

They also note, for instance, that the Crime Survey for England & Wales did not include respondents older than 59 from 2017 to 2017. However the survey doesn’t include people older than 74 and also does not include survey groups for residences.

They also refer to data that show that the majority of domestic abuse cases, including forced marriages, as well as potential abuses of power of attorney result with no action.

They believe that healthcare professionals play a a crucial role in protecting elderly people from abuse. They are in need of immediate guidance and education and assistance on how to report suspected abuse.

This view is supported by Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK in a linked opinion article.

She explained that a huge number of older people are subject to emotional, financial and physical abuse. But, official statistics on domestic abuse do not include this group.

Age UK has been successful in changing this trend. Abrahams states that it “should shed some light” on domestic violence in older adults, which is a largely unreported and unspoken about issue, and promote new forms of support.

She also points out that domestic abuse doesn’t only occur between older partners as well as between older adults and their adult children, and their family members as well. She suggests health professionals who work with older people are well-equipped to recognize situations where an older person might be in danger of or suffering abuse.

While she acknowledges the challenges faced, she believes that the safeguarding training and education health professionals receive should include more than the identification of domestic abuse in conjunction with other types of abuse but also how older people experience it and how to address any concerns.

She concludes, “Breaking the taboo will be an important service to everyone affected and increase the likelihood that they will get the assistance they need.”

Journal references:
  • Stephens, C., et al. (2021) Elder abuse in the UK: out of the shadows and back to the agenda. BMJ.
  • Abrahams, C. (2021) Healthcare professionals play a crucial role in protecting older people from abuse. BMJ.

Content Source:

Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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