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 entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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