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 Manning is a social pioneer, writer, campaigner and commentator. Formerly a clinical optometrist specialising in diabetes and visual impairment, she is the founder and Chief Exec of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal and Social. 2020health has through research, events and campaigning influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. In 2014, 2020health were founding partners of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum, now in their 5th year. Since 2016, 2020health has increasingly focused on digital health and public health in the community through the concept of 'Whole School Wellbeing'. Julia is a Fellow of the RSA and a part-time PhD student at the UCL Interaction Centre, studying the use of digital technologies for stress management in the workplace. 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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