Dropped from Queen’s speech: would laws to ‘protect older people’ have made any difference?

I’ve just been speaking to @nickferrari on #LBC (7.50am) about the Government dropping plans for new laws in the Queen’s Speech to ‘prevent the abuse of older people by care staff’ as reported by @jameskirkikup.

What is at the heart of what the government is trying to do is to make is less likely that someone will treat an older person badly. Laws to protect the elderly sound good but in reality regulation, inspection, legislation don’t build trust and don’t change people’s hearts. At best they set out expected standards, give a snapshot of quality at one single moment in time and criminalise certain actions. As for what happens behind closed doors when no one is looking, the only effective ‘policeman’ there is an individual’s conscience. That existing laws for prosecution need standardising and updating may be true, but it would be disengenuous to imply older people would be safer as a result.

Much more care is happening in the community, not in care homes, and this can never realistically be policed by laws and inspection.

Tackling ‘elder abuse’ has to start in our culture with all of us showing respect and compassion for older people in our families, our neighbourhoods, our day-to-day living. We take our values to work, and what we have learned and believe shapes our attitudes, actions and thinking in every area of our lives. There are roles for government, which don’t involve passing new laws, such as:

  • in thinking about the context for individuals learning emotional intelligence and the value of caring and kindness, and what increases the probability of this happening
  • in considering whether their policies, pronouncements, summits etc. send the message of cherishing and valuing older people and
  • in looking at what will raise the status of caring – valuing carers involves ensuring that carers themselves are treated well (eg payment for travel time – one of 2020health’s campaigns) and receive recognised quality training and protected learning time.
  • in reviewing how not to lose the experiences of the elderly from the workforce and policy development

And then of course doing something about their findings.

As individuals looking at the options for extra care that an older relative may need, we need to ask about the process for recruitment, references, training, conditions etc used by care providers. Having a disclosure and barring declaration only shows someone hasn’t been caught, so ultimately we still have to chose in whom we place our trust. There are no cast-iron guarantees. But none of us can abdicate responsibility. It’s up to each one of us to consider what we can do and how we communicate esteem for older people in our day to day lives, as ultimately this is what will make treating people badly, of any age, unacceptable.



About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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