Challenging abuse and negative perceptions

By David Gledhill, Marketing and Communications Officer

Good news from the Government this week – ageism is to being considered in a new list of hate crimes alongside racism, sexism, and discrimination towards transgender people, those with disabilities and the religious.

We are generally regarded as a tolerant nation, and despite huge strides in recent years, there are still deep-rooted prejudices that pervade all our lives.

Ageism is sadly one of them and that is why elder abuse has not until now been regarded as a hate crime requiring harsher sentencing by the courts.

Charities estimate around one million older people are victims of physical, financial, psychological and sexual abuse each year yet say criminal convictions are rare and sentences too lenient.

They argue police and prosecutors would be able to take tougher action and apply for stronger sentences if hate crime could be taken into account as an aggravating factor in offences.

Of the one million cases of abuse against the elderly, charities say only 0.3 per cent result in successful criminal convictions. In 2016-17, there was a decrease in police referrals to the CPS for crimes against older people compared to a year earlier from 3,568 to 3,467, resulting in 2,783 suspects charged.

Gary FitzGerald, the chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse which has campaigned for a change in the law, said: “The UK now has an opportunity to join other countries including the US, Japan and Israel by making elder abuse a crime, with the sorts of punishments that the public expects.

“We must make it clear that we as a society will not tolerate these cowardly acts against some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

In polling conducted by the charity in 2017, 96% of respondents backed calls for tougher penalties for crimes against older people. More than a third (34%) assumed such crimes were already classified as an aggravated offence with another 60% believing they should be.

Here in the Bay we are lucky to have Ageing Well Torbay, one of the fourteen Big Lottery funded projects nationwide that is tackling society’s attitude to older people focussing on how they are regarded by their neighbours and peers

We are careful at Ageing Well to refer not to old people, but to older people because of the negative connotations of the former that has crept into our language in recent years

Strangely that bias is not present in all other European countries and has only become prevalent here is the last twenty or thirty years, meaning it is not that long ago that older people were revered and respected.

Making elder abuse a hate crime will not in itself change attitudes, but it is an important step in the right direction. As a society we have faced up to racism and changed how it is dealt with and we are getting there with sexism. Ageism is the last to be tackled.

Today, there are around 600 million people aged 60 years and over worldwide. This number will double by 2025 and will reach two billion by 2050, with the vast majority of older people in the developing world.

Negative ageist attitudes are widely held and not confined to one social or ethnic group. Research suggests that ageism may now be even more pervasive than sexism and racism. This has serious consequences both for older people and society at large. For example ageism limits the questions that are asked and the way problems are conceptualized and is hence a major barrier to developing good policies across authority.

Only last weekend around 850 people descended on the Paignton Community and Sports Academy in Borough Road in Paignton to celebrate the many talents of older people.

We had comedy, singing, sports, games and knowledgeable speakers and the feedback was tremendous, particularly from those for whom our fourth was their first Ageing Well Festival.

As one delighted 76-year-old attendee said as she signed up for walking netball: “It is 60 years since I last played netball, and here I am playing again.”

It was a celebration of health and well among older people and many there were able to meet new people, try out new things or get better at something they already do. Being active whether in mind or body is a major first step to Ageing Well.

However, as a society we need to become much more tolerant of all older people who are not just all around us, but are increasing in numbers year on year.