Campaigning for the rights of older people
**NEWS: Immediate Release**
You can watch the webinar below
Time for for a new UK narrative on ageing – and for appointing a champion for older people in England
A National Pensioners’ Convention webinar was shocked to hear evidence of ageism and human rights breaches against older people during the pandemic (3rd December).
Speakers from several leading research organisations told of multiple, long-term failures in social care policy – exacerbated by underlying ageist attitudes – which led to tragedy during the pandemic.
And there were warnings that the lessons from the first lockdown in the care of older people in care homes and in their own homes have not been learned, with a second tragedy just around the corner.
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.”
Guest speakers included: Eddie Lynch, the Older People’s Commissioner for Northern Ireland; Jackie Killeen, Director of Compliance, the Equality and Human Rights Commission; Holly Harrison-Mullane, Community Organiser, Amnesty International UK; Louise Ansari, Director of Communications, Centre for Ageing Better; and 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.
Holly Harrison-Mullane from Amnesty laid bare the worst breaches of older people’s rights during the pandemic, outlining their shock report ‘As If Expendable: The UK Government’s Failure to Protect Older People in Care Homes during the COVID-19 Pandemic.’ Amnesty’s research found how spending on adult social care dropped by 12 percent in the last decade, but the number of those in need rose by 1.5million.
She also gave evidence of elderly patients during the pandemic being discharged from hospitals to care homes without virus testing; ‘Do Not Attempt to Resuscitate’ signs (DNARs) being issued for some older patients without consultation; and a horrendous lack of PPE and testing in care homes. The care system clearly struggled to cope during the pandemic, and poses wider questions on how policy makers felt able to take decisions that breached the human rights of our eldest citizens.
Other speakers had similar evidence to deliver, including reports of crimes against older people, with the question being asked if this was an extension of our ageist society.
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.
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.”
Jackie Killeen, of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “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.”
Dr Hannah Bows, Associate Professor in Criminal Law at Durham University, said findings from data on crimes against older people shows an increase, but that there were less 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.
Eddie Lynch, the commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland said he thought many crimes and examples of ageism against older people were not being reported. He spoke about the advantages and importance of having an Older People’s Commissioner as an advocate for the older members of our community.
All speakers called for concerted action – in some cases by the government - to change the narrative around older people (particularly in the media) and use existing laws to prosecute those who offend against older people.
Download the press release below