by Giles Watling

To my discomfort, I recently discovered just how common elder abuse is across this country – according to Action on Elder Abuse, there are around one million victims every year.

Elder abuse has at its heart an ‘expectation of trust’ that an older person may rightly establish with anyone, but which may be subsequently violated, leading to physical, financial, psychological, and sexual abuse.

Sadly, while this trust is regularly violated, it fails to attract serious penalties.

In Cheshire, an elderly woman, with dementia, was seriously abused by staff in her care home. This terrible episode quite rightly captured our national attention, but those involved were spared jail.

Regrettably, we have also seen this in my constituency. In 2016, a local resident was defrauded out of £57,000 by his carer. The perpetrator was only sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Thankfully, the Government has reacted to events like these by introducing a wilful neglect offence, so there is now criminal liability where a person has been placed under the care of a medical professional. But this new offence, by its very nature, fails to prevent the abuse of older people in their own home.

This must change, and we must ensure that all elder abuse, regardless of its location, is properly punished – currently, only 0.3 per cent of reported abuse incidents result in a successful criminal conviction.

While this is certainly an unsettling statistic, elder abuse continues to be overlooked at the national level.

In Parliament there have only been a handful of mentions in recent years, even though this is a real and growing concern for many peopleacross this country – including my own constituents, 32.4 per cent of whom are aged over 65, and this now includes me!

That is why, last month, I held a debate in Parliament on elder abuse. I am pleased that this was well attended by members from all parties, and we had a constructive discussion.

But that was just the start of the Parliamentary awareness campaign that I have planned. Because it is only by properly understanding elder abuse that we as MPs can hope to tackle it.

With that in mind, I hope that those of you with any personal knowledge of elder abuse are prepared to share your experiences with me, and Government Ministers subsequently. This will be vital as I make the case for legislative change; please contact me at

But, it is important to recognise that this isn’t an issue that can be addressed by legislation alone. Awareness of the vulnerability of others is also vital.

In my view, it is tragic that we have witnessed a calamitous breakdown in community over the past few decades. This creates a vacuum for the abuser to exploit.

In many parts of the country people no longer regularly chat over the garden fence, they no longer meet in happy intimacy in pubs, cafes, and village halls, often preferring to stay indoors watching widescreen TVs, consuming cheap supermarket drinks, or browsing the internet.

Moreover, from my role on the DCMS Select Committee, I know that social media is a misnomer as it naturally ignores those who don’t use it, who are very often older people, who are then left in a world of loneliness.

Again, this gives the abuser an opportunity, as the evidence shows that lonely older people would rather would rather welcome a potential abuser than be alone.

So, I appeal to all to spread the word; look up from your screens and look after your neighbours. Are they alright? Are they properly cared for?

We must, as a nation, learn to engage once more, and when it comes to vulnerable older people, we must also ensure that we report anything that concerns us to the authorities – we would all be quick to do this if a vulnerable child were in danger.

We must also ensure that, where there are victims, they can get sufficient redress, and that there is a sufficient deterrent for would be abusers.

This is not the case currently, but we have an opportunity to change this now. As part of the Government’s efforts to update the Hate Crime Action Plan, the Law Commission is currently undertaking a review of hate crime legislation.

During this review, the commission will consider whether to make hate crimes relating to age an aggravated offence. This would make it a requirement for courts to apply a mandatory sentencing uplift.

This is already the case for hate crimes motivated by prejudice based on someone’s race, sexual orientation, religion, or disability, so why not age?

There is strong public support for this change, with 96 per cent of respondents to a poll conducted by Action on Elder Abuse backing calls for tougher penalties for crimes against older people.

Given this strong public backing, and the very real need for change, I’ve written, with a cross-party group of colleagues, to the commission to push for this change.

But, we must go beyond this to ensure that all instances of elder abuse, not just those covered under hate crime legislation, attract an aggravated offence on conviction. That is my next priority. This is the only way to restore older people’s faith in justice and deter potential abusers, and this is an easy fix for a terrible problem.

Finally, as Gary FitzGerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said recently: “Frankly, such a step is long overdue." I am confident that the Government and the Law Commission will see it that way too.