National Pensioners Convention webinar: The Role of Ageism on Human Rights and Rising Hate Crime

Watch it here, report by Hampshire UNISON member Diana Barnes below:

Amnesty International UK’s shock report ‘As If Expendable: The UK Government’s Failure to Protect Older People in Care Homes during the COV-ID-19 Pandemic,’ laid bare how older people were often pushed to the back of the queue as the authorities worked to deal with the pandemic.

Evidence of elderly patients being discharged from hospitals to care homes without virus testing; ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ signs (DNRs) being issued for some elderly patients without consultation; and horrendous lack of PPE and testing in care homes shows how the care system struggled to cope.

Jan Shortt, NPC General Secretary said: “The human rights of older people sadly played very little part in the first lockdown. As we move into winter where cold-related deaths are monitored, we must also ensure the tragedies of the first lockdown are not repeated – and look to a future where older people are not ‘Expendable’ but properly protected and valued.”

Older people tend to be lumped together, especially by the media, either as rich and owning their own houses, or as frail and lonely. As Jan said “A person is a person first, however old they are”, and each needs to be considered on their own merits.

Apologies had been received from Heléna Herklots, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, and Claire Sumner, BBC Director of Policy, who has been in discussion with NPC e.g. about TV Licences.

Holly Harrison-Mullane, Community Organiser, Amnesty International UK.

Holly explained that AIUK usually deals with crises overseas, but felt strongly that older people’s human rights had been so badly breached during the pandemic that they should investigate and report.
Right to Health, right to Life, right to Non-discrimination.
Political and policy decisions showed that lessons had not been learnt from Operation Cygnus in 2016, and that older people were disproportionately affected. Spending on care was down by 12%, and some care homes have had to close though lack of funding, but the number of people now needing care has risen by 1.5million. Martin Green of Care England: No recognition that people in care homes were the most vulnerable. UK stopped testing, and asymptomatic transmission was not considered.
Blanket issuing of Do Not Attempt Resuscitation (DNAR) Notices in Care Homes appalling. Each person should make an individual decision with support from family or friends. Care home funding by local authorities (e.g. Durham) was sometimes conditional on taking patients from hospital with Covid-19 or of unknown status. This was stopped. The only care homes that didn’t get the virus were those which were already full, so could not accept patients with it. Impact on mental health when unable to have visitors, and some patients who were deaf or had dementia were unable to use devices to contact family. Sometimes staff would sit in on visits “to ensure social distancing”, no privacy e.g. to whistle-blow. Relatives should be tested and given PPE as staff.
Amnesty’s recommendations:
1. Public Enquiry into what happened in care homes, to ensure that the same mistakes are not made again.
2. Review of the use of DNAR Notices.
3. Regular testing for residents and families. Some Authorities have promised that this will happen, and there has been a successful pilot.
4. Keep lobbying MPs!

Jackie Killeen, Director of Compliance, the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Care homes deaths not at first included in figures- discrimination. António Guterres, UN Secretary General had to state that older people have the same rights as everyone else.
Report published in October showed that older people, BAME people and Care Homes were disproportionately affected by Covid-19, there was increased reliance on unpaid carers, and measures to address the impact on everyone, e.g. online guidance, were not accessible to all older people.
EHRC has issued guidance to retailers about taking older customers into consideration, training staff and adjusting practice. They did offer older people allocated shopping times.
Encourages urgent review into situation in care homes. Residents should have access to health care and treatment, and there should be the capacity for testing staff and residents. Should not be a blanket ban on visitors, but individual Risk Assessments. Right to life, and to independent living to be maintained.
Ageism to be challenged- the all too frequent use of ‘frail’, ‘vulnerable’,’ dependent’ – old people are not a homogenous group but citizens of equal value to everyone else.
We should Build back better. Wales and N.Ireland have Commissioners for Older People, and maybe there should be one for England, too.
EHRC is also working on employment experience of lower-paid social and care workers, often from BAME backgrounds. They are asking for evidence.

“Our vision would be of post-pandemic society that is more, rather than less equal. I would hope that now, having witnessed on a colossal scale and in a way that has affected so many families, what diminished human rights looks like, we will better value, understand and defend those rights. We will be calling for equalities and human rights to be designed in and at the centre of recovery and reform, rather than bolted on afterwards.”

Louise Ansari, Director of Communications, Centre for Ageing Better

Louise Ansari, Communications Director of the Centre for Ageing Better, which has conducted important research into ageist language in the media, as well as the overall State of Ageing in 2020, said it was time society and government took a proactive role in changing the narrative. This is particularly key as she explained that 1 in 4 of us will be over 65, and a third of us over 50 by 2040. Women in richer parts of the country could live 16 years longer than those in less affluent areas- this needs to be addressed. Problems with housing e.g. damp and mould, which cause respiratory problems, could be fixed across the nation with £4bn. (We used to think that was a lot of money, but at the moment it looks possible!) All new houses should be built with accessibility planned in- will be watching the new rules which come out in March/April.
I in 3 workers are aged 50+, but there is ageism at the recruitment stage. Covid-19 has led to long-term unemployment for many older people, and they will find it harder to get new jobs. The RESTART scheme for young people also needs to be applied to older people.
Ageism is bias from age group to another, but also within the group e.g.” I am too old to do that”- we shouldn’t be negative. Social marketing is used by people of all ages, but most people working in marketing are young. Advertising stereotypes- wrinkly hands, lone person looking out of window, or heroes: Capt. Tom or an older person skydiving. Other adverts feature older people: Glamour (look younger ), or Financial services (an attractive silver-haired couple on holiday). Charities – now Loneliness dominates, but more 16-24 year-olds than older people are lonely. Harm to social perception and to ourselves. Government obesity campaign is aimed at children, but it is more of a problem for older people, and the Covid-19 situation has made it worse.

She said: “We know that society’s prominent attitudes to ageing are negative – it is about physical and cognitive decline, with all older people characterised as frail, vulnerable and dependent. Because of that, vulnerability (and hence older people) has been framed as an economic burden for society. This then translates to an intergenerational unfairness, and at worst, intergenerational conflict. We don’t want to live in a society with this overwhelmingly negative and ageist attitude – it’s deeply damaging to the fabric of society.”

Dr Hannah Bows, Associate Professor of Criminal Law, Durham University, who has produced a report for the Scottish Parliament on the case for specific legislation on hate crime against older people.

Findings from data on crimes against older people shows an increase, but that there were fewer examples in the data that you could specifically call ’hate crime.’ She found that new hate crime legislation was not needed, rather that we should use existing legislation to prosecute crimes against older people. More violence is perpetrated against young people than older people. “Elder abuse” is really domestic violence, easier for prosecution, otherwise crime against older people could be shunted over to social work/safeguarding. Scams etc are happening to younger people as much as older people, though older people are seem as susceptible. N. Ireland is having a Hate Crime Review, but David Ormerod, of the Law Commission (England) says there is a tendency to want to do something without necessarily knowing what. Elder abuse can be physical, psychological/emotional, sexual, financial, neglect or abandonment, and all are crimes whether to older people or not. If the focus is more on the age of the victim than the crime, this could lead to inappropriate victim blaming. If fewer people are convicted, this could give out the message that older people are not valued. To be vulnerable is not the same as being a victim. The fact that more older people fall for doorstep scams is not because of their age but their lifestyle- they are more likely to be at home. Younger people are also scammed. Most older people are experienced enough to be able to cope.
The term ‘Elder Abuse’ came over from the USA, and they are now unhappy with its use.

Eddie Lynch, the Older People’s Commissioner for Northern Ireland

Is Covid-19 ageist? 95% of victims are over 60. The response was definitely ageist- situation in care homes. Average age of Covid deaths in N. Ireland is now going down.
Many topics he would cover have already been discussed.
Many crimes against older people are not reported. ‘ Age factor’ is to be added to crimes in N. Ireland.
We must all challenge ageism, stop Human Rights abuse, and value and support the older generation.
Data on over 65s is sometimes not collected i.e. when they stop working

Back to Jan Shortt, Chair.
2 poll questions:
1. Is it time to make hate crime against older people a specific crime, or should it just be treated as a crime, regardless of age? (2nd option won)
2. Should the British government appoint a Commissioner for Older People (as they have in Wales and in N. Ireland) and bring all the Commissioners together for an Enquiry into hate crime? (93% Yes)

Other questions from the participants:
Q. Janet Shapiro, Women’s Working Party: there is harassment and violence to women in particular- should there be refuges for older women?
A. More effective to have a Commissioner than a new law

Jan Shortt to all panel members: Where do we go from here?
Holly: Keep campaigning for a public enquiry.
Jackie: Be very careful about DNARs and treatment by GPs
Hannah: Ageism definitely exists- we must counter it.
Eddie: Crimes against older people should be treated like crimes against disabled people- not because anyone hates either sector of the population, but because they are vulnerable. Many older people are disabled as well.

The webinar Chair, NPC General Secretary Jan Shortt said: “This webinar was an important discussion on hugely important issues surrounding ageism in the UK, and its impact on human rights and hate crime against older people.

‘Our speakers provided stark insights into what happened during the pandemic, with evidence of the very real, and heart-breaking effects on our oldest and most vulnerable. What we learned is that the problems have been building for some time, and that the pandemic has sadly served to highlight them.

“We will be following up with all our speakers, and supporting the campaigns of EHRC, Amnesty, and the Centre for Better Ageing Better in their calls for an inquiry into the rights abuses against older people, particularly in care homes, during the pandemic.

“We also intend to lead the campaign for an Older People’s Commissioner for England, as they have in Northern Ireland and Wales – the NPC believes a Commissioner for Older People in England with the same independence and judicial powers as those already in place is key to challenging government on those issues important to older people.”