Charity Action on Elder Abuse has renewed calls for legislation on adult protection after revealing a huge variation in the effectiveness of local authority referral systems in England.
Research by the charity found that nine out of 10 adults who had been abused lacked support in England, with Norfolk Council supporting only 1.5% of older people, compared with nearly 41% in Halton, Cheshire.
The study, published today, is based on an analysis of local authority reports and consultation with adult protection and safeguarding staff.
No blame on councils
But Action on Elder Abuse’s chief executive, Gary FitzGerald, did not blame individual local authorities for lower rates of support. Instead, the differences reflected the lack of central government funding and compulsion on local agencies to work together.
The government is due to respond to the consultation on the review of the No Secrets adult protection guidance, which closed in January and attracted widespread calls to introduce adult protection laws. It said it would publish a summary of its response within three months, but a Department of Health spokeswoman said it was still considering its reply.
Role of communities
FitzGerald said: “We don’t have compulsion on police and health and it varies whether they contribute to adult protection budgets.
“Communities have to be as aware of adult protection as they are of child protection. If someone with a learning disability is suffering next door, often people don’t know where to go to report it.
“There’s a big national campaign with government backing that needs to happen to get that message across. Until we get government moving I don’t think we can speak too harshly of local authorities that are struggling.”
Responding to the findings, care services minister Phil Hope said any abuse of vulnerable adults was “absolutely unacceptable” and the government was “determined to improve safeguarding systems and the quality of life for people at risk of harm”.
He said a “strong message” in responses to the No Secrets consultation was that “people want to have control over their lives and to be empowered to stop abuse”.
How report was compiled
As the basis of the report, Action on Elder Abuse used the 2007 UK Study into the Abuse and Neglect of Older People, which showed 3.9% of people in England aged 66 or older suffered “significant abuse” in their own homes.
The charity then calculated the number of referrals that should be reported to England’s local authorities. For instance, if 3.9% of people in Norfolk aged 66 or older were being abused, more than 6,700 should have been supported – but there were only 99 referrals in 2008.
Action on Elder Abuse said the 3.9% figure was also an underestimate as it referred only to people without dementia living in the community, while the local authority referral data included all older people referred, regardless of where they lived or cognitive ability.