The Simon Heng Column

After my recent experience as a victim of financial abuse, I was talking to a number of people who are involved in the protection of vulnerable adults in my area.

Apart from the (to me) horrifying numbers of referrals that are prompted by any publicity for the Vulnerable Adults Protection Scheme, somebody observed that, since the turn of the year, there has been an unprecedented number of reports of financial abuse. “People must be short of money after their Christmas spending binges,” one person said, joking. When I responded with “but what makes people think that it’s OK to take money from the people they care for?”, I received more serious answers.

Much of this kind of theft takes place in people’s homes by relatives. Victims often report that their relatives justify their actions in terms of “I look after you, I’ll have your money when you’re dead, so it’s OK if I take it now”, or “You don’t go anywhere, you don’t do anything, so you don’t need the money, but I do”, or even that they are “too confused (or stupid) to notice anything missing, so I can take what I want”.

Care services minister Liam Byrne has promised to increase individual service users’ responsibility for purchasing their own care, through the development of individual budgets and by extending direct payments to people who have been excluded. In principle, this should mean that people are more likely to get the care and that matches their needs and preferences.

But what Byrne needs to consider is that, in effect, he will be making each of these people responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of pounds of public money each month. Which means that the temptation and the opportunities to steal, or even worse, extort this money through threats and deception will be all the greater.

I was lucky: not only was my thief a paid care worker rather than a relative, they also stole without my knowledge. I dread to think what kinds of coercion some people may go through to make them sign cheques or to reveal their PIN numbers.


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