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  • Sarah Whitebloom

Calling abuse of older people 'hate crime' risks making things so much worse

Older people are not the victims of crime, be it theft or abuse, because they are ‘hated’ for being old - as people of different races and religions are targeted because of their skin colour, background or beliefs. Criminals steal from older and vulnerable people because it is easy. They are abused and neglected by bullies, profiteering businesses and criminals for much the same reason.

Calling crimes against older people 'hate crime' may only serve to exacerbate their problems because it underlines their increasingly marginalised situation and marks them out as different. One of the major reasons why it is easy to prey on older and vulnerable people is because they are literally isolated and left to defend themselves – living alone or in care homes or retirement ghettos.

We weep over stories of care home abuse. But the truth is, whatever Sajid Javid says, the political direction is all about demonising older people, setting up inter-generational strife and pushing them to the fringes of society. Older people are blamed for, among other things: Brexit, Trump, the housing shortage, NHS waiting lists, the cost of pensions, the rising cost of social care and even unemployment. Re-categorising a range of crimes is not going to change any of that. But it might create a few easy headlines while we contemplate European negotiations.

older people are just people

Older people are people. They are us. If we are serious about stopping such crime, we need to ask why they are such easy targets for criminals and do something about it. Making offences against older people 'hate' crimes will not stop them. It just emphasises that older people are seen to be 'different'. Experience shows, it will not help.We need to let older people back in.

There are already laws against theft, fraud, physical and mental abuse and even specific crimes of carer and care provider abuse, which were introduced in 2015. A year ago, OLM asked every police force how many investigations they had carried out under these laws and how many people had been charged since they came into force. Thirty four forces responded. Very few investigations had been launched (1,257 in 30 months) and just 73 people had been charged. This contrasts with 82,000 people charged, in one year, with domestic abuse and 11,130 prosecutions for child abuse.

The biggest problem was evidence. According to the police, they simply could not get the evidence to prosecute, mainly because the crimes are carried out behind closed doors – where older and vulnerable people are shut away.

But talk to seasoned police and they will say an assault is an assault – whether it is in a care home, on the street or in a residential home. Making crimes a separate 'hate' offence, they say, actually diminishes the crime. There are existing laws under which people, who abuse older people, can be charged. Calling it a hate crime might attract publicity, but it just introduces another layer of necessary proof. Law enforcement agencies will have to prove that criminals did it because they ‘hate’ older people – which is going to be a tough one. As is often reported, even the Krays loved their Mum.

Existing laws should protect older people without marginalising them further. What is needed is for politicians and police to put proper resources into pursuing these crimes - and to bring older people out of the shadows, where they are vulnerable.

But, given the Government’s ageist agenda, can it be long before young thugs are rewarded for helping themselves to the hard-won possessions of the old?

This blog is based on an article carried in April 2018 in OlderLivingMatters - when the idea of making crimes against older people into 'hate crime' was initially suggested.

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