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Age Cymru wants the Welsh Government to include the provision of independent advocacy for older people at risk of abuse in the new Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Bill. But what is advocacy? Our Campaigns Coordinator Gerry Keighley explains.
Most people probably think of expensive lawyers when they hear the word advocacy.
But the kind of advocates whom Age Cymru wants to see provided for vulnerable older people are an entirely different group of professionals.
They are listeners, supporters and representatives who can, free of charge to the clients, help to transform the lives of older people when they are facing problems that can go from being relatively minor right through to personal disaster.
They are people who can speak on behalf of an older person who no longer has the capacity to speak for themselves.
They can return power and control to those who can still speak for themselves but may need help with the intricacies of modern life.
Think of what might happen to your grandparents or parents if they end up in a situation with no one to turn to.
Think of those older people who don’t have families, especially those who have lost their spouses.
Think of those suffering the early stages of dementia but who can stay independent with the right kind of support.
Age Cymru wants to see a new law to protect older people who are at risk of abuse, neglect or coercion in care homes, hospitals or even their own homes.
Sadly a lot of abuse, much unrecorded, comes from family members, neighbours or so-called friends. It can also come from rogue traders or scam merchants.
Financial abuse is a major problem.
Older people can be stripped of their self respect, their human rights and some may suffer from discrimination or other forms of violation.
The need for independent advocates, as opposed to, say, NHS or social care staff who advocate, is obvious when it may be that someone is facing abuse or neglect within a hospital, a care home or from a social worker.
We hear constantly about older people who have lost virtually every shred of dignity within an institution that is either poorly managed or poorly resourced.
Independent advocates can become champions for these people, but we want to see access to advocacy guaranteed by law as necessary to supplement the existing voluntary services.
Independent advocates can help older people make choices through information.
The advocate will help someone to understand the implications of choices so that they can come to an informed decision about what they want to do.
So far, the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Bill, which is going through its early stages, does not dictate that the provision of independent advocacy for older people at risk of abuse should be a duty imposed on local authorities.
We believe this is largely due to fears of increasing costs via legislation that is meant to be cost neutral.
It has, however, commissioned a business case on advocacy from the office of the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.
Age Cymru believes that providing independent advocacy for older people at risk of abuse is as vital to our society - our ageing society - as it is for children.
We also believe that it does not necessarily mean increased costs.
It can actually help to save money in areas such as health, social services and criminal justice and some research carried out in Scotland suggests that the savings could be considerable.
This would mean that the Welsh Government would have to provide the initial funding to set up a network of independent advocates sufficient to meet the needs, but could recoup the cash in the other areas outlined above.
Our research has shown that, at present, there is roughly one independent advocate for every 17,000 members of the older population in Wales.
That is nowhere near enough.
We believe that at least 39,000 older people live under the threat of abuse.
Some areas fare better than others with organisations, including some of our local Age Cymru partners, providing independent advocacy services.
But helping to protect older people from the risk of abuse should not become issue that falls into the postcode lottery category.
It is not Age Cymru that needs your help, it is older people who face having their twilight years blighted by abuse, neglect, coercion or even violence.
Everyone reading this article can help by writing to their Assembly member asking for independent advocacy for older people at risk of abuse to become a right enshrined in law.
The reality is that, if we are lucky, we will be living longer and society will have to adapt to this.
But lawmakers will also have to adapt and in some cases introduce new laws that put quality of life and safety at the forefront of the public agenda.
For some older people the future has already arrived.
It is our duty as a society to ensure that their remaining time on this planet is both happy and secure.
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