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Older people and domestic abuse during the coronavirus crisis

A black and white photo showing a woman sitting in shadow in a room

A dangerous delay

Since the Government shelved new legislation due to the General Election, over 80,000 more older people aged 60-74 have experienced domestic abuse. Now, the impact of coronavirus may make the delay even more dangerous for those in later life.

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“We wanted to help Paula but the atmosphere at home now is a living hell,” says Arthur, 88. Paula is his adult daughter, who moved back in with him and his wife, Sylvia, after an illness caused her to go into debt. Since then, Paula has become abusive towards her parents.

“Sylvia’s been diagnosed with depression because of the daily strain and trauma,” says Arthur. “Paula’s thrown things at Sylvia, which leaves her terrified. If we try to refuse to do as Paula demands, she threatens to throw things at Sylvia again. We’re both so frightened.” 

The missing figures of domestic abuse

Sadly, Arthur’s story is far from unique. Last year, the Age UK Advice Line received 655 enquiries relating to domestic abuse in later life. It’s a crime with no age limit – and yet, data on older victims and survivors is only collected by the Crime Survey for England and Wales up to the age of 74.

Without this data, older domestic abuse victims are even more hidden from view and less likely to be factored in specialist support services.

In 2019 more than 280,000 people aged 60 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales. But without accurate data, it’s expected the estimate is much higher and many older people are suffering in silence.

Staying at home when home isn’t safe 

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has meant that many older people are being asked to stay at home at all times. This not only makes them more vulnerable to abuse by those they are dependent on, but it also poses a barrier to them seeking help. 

“Coronavirus only makes the situation worse for many at-risk older people and has added another barrier to them leaving an abusive situation,” says Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director. 

“The fact that no data is collected about domestic abuse survivors past the age of 74 has helped to keep domestic abuse in later life well and truly hidden, hindering efforts to get support to older people who desperately need it. This age limit is ageist, and a way must be found to collect this essential data from people aged 75 and over.”

Staying safe during the coronavirus crisis

Information and advice on staying safe when spending more time at home.

New legislation for all age groups 

The original Domestic Abuse Bill received its third reading in Parliament in October 2019. Since then changes in Government, a General Election and a global health crisis has led to a lengthy delay to the Bill’s progress. During this time the numbers of older people experiencing domestic abuse has continued to rise.  

“It is now time that this was fully recognised by the law, policy and practice so that the needs of older survivors can be identified and properly met,” says Caroline. 

“Together with many other organisations, Age UK is restating our call on the Government to be bold and ambitious with the Domestic Abuse Bill and include provisions to collect data on victims of all ages.”

Among the calls for the new legislation are training for care practitioners, including GPs and practice nurses who work with older people, particularly during hospital admission and discharge. This is when an older person’s experience of abuse may first come to light.

No age limit campaign

Find out more about our campaign to make sure older people are visible in new domestic abuse legislation.

Help and support

Age UK is here to help any older person affected by domestic abuse. The Age UK Advice Line is available to call free of charge on 0800 678 1602 and is open from 8am-7pm 365 days a year. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline operates 24 hours, 7 days a week and is free to call on 0808 2000 247.

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Last updated: May 14 2020

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