Tackling elder abuse in Surrey

In the post baby Peter environment child abuse stories are commanding progressively more of people’s attention. But the starkly similar problem of elder abuse remains in the background. Surrey safeguarding adults board is looking to redress that balance by launching a new DVD to raise awareness of the issue. The board is also holding a week of events in the area this week to highlight the problem and increase reporting of elder abuse.

The Because you said something DVD, launched by shadow health secretary Anne Milton, is aimed at educating professionals about elder abuse, allowing them to recognise the signs and react to it effectively. It’s a challenge because it comes in so many different forms, Milton explains. “Adult abuse can be discriminatory, financial, neglect, physical, psychological, sexual, verbal and can happen anywhere and be inflicted by anyone.” The programme uses carers and service users to convey the problems of adult abuse and its effects.

The release of the DVD coincided with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day which is being supported with 270 events nationwide.

Tackling the problem

Raising awareness is still the biggest obstacle to tackling the problem in the UK. As Action on Elder Abuse chief executive Gary Fitzgerald explains, “It’s not unreasonable to say that we are stuck at the place where we were about 15 years ago with child abuse, which is that it’s too painful for people to believe it so they don’t see it.”

According to Fitzgerald, Surrey’s safeguarding adults board has been one of the leading organisations tackling the problem as the awareness week is now in its eighth year while the international day is in its fourth.

This year the awareness week has expanded to encompass a wider variety of events than previous years. A Surrey Council spokesperson says, “The roadshows are touring round various town centres to basically put it on the street. It’s a more comprehensive programme.” There are also plays, quizzes and video screenings to get people involved in the campaign.

Coinciding with the launch Surrey Council released figures showing there are four cases of adult abuse reported every day with just over a third of these cases involving physical abuse. However, this is probably an underestimate as many incidents which happen behind closed doors are never reported.

National picture

The Surrey figures reflect the wider picture of elder abuse in the UK. A nationwide study for the Department of Health in 2007 found 4% of people over 66 and living in the community experienced some form of mistreatment.

Two years on the public still have misconceptions about the problem, Fitzgerald says. “You would be forgiven for thinking that most elder abuse happens in care homes but it doesn’t, 64% of elder abuse happens in the community.” The report found perpetrators of the abuse were most often family members, followed by care workers or friends and acquaintances.

Despite the scale of the problem Fitzgerald notes there is little serious action, “We’re not seeing the urgency and the commitment from the government in tackling the issue.”

In this light he says raising awareness has become a vehicle for driving change. “I think until we get people angry and not being polite and friendly about it we’re not going to get the government to the next level.” The actions of those supporting the world awareness day are trying to ensure it doesn’t take an event of the magnitude of baby Peter’s abuse to do this.

More information

Expert guide: Elderly people

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