ELDERLY abuse is no longer a forbidden term. All statutory community service organisations have these days well set guidelines and action plans. Whether such incidents are regularly reported or looked for is a different matter. It can be said, however, that, on the league table, abuse of the frail and vulnerable older people, is no where near the abuse of children or housewives.

It is a matter of perception of the society. Children are important, therefore, any misbehaviour to them is important; elderly are not important, especially if they are frail, dependent and perhaps mentally somewhat infirm. Our dealings with the old are consequential to our overall attitude to their status and honour.

Despite many articles, leaflets, newspaper columns and media programmes on the subject, it is worth remembering that the most frequent form of abuse of older people (the kinds I just referred to) is verbal berating and behavioural rudeness and impropriety; the next most frequent ones are some form of physical assault. Although an indictable offence, such ‘assaults’ usually do not get noticed, investigated or reported; the victims are usually too scared to open their mouths or quite often mentally infirm to make them a credible witness. The recently identified ‘abuse of residents in a care home’ is a classic example. The one on the pecking order after these is ‘financial’ abuse .

Too much money is taken for shopping; the on-the-door trader charging almost double the usual rate; loose cash is literally stolen from the purse or a drawer by an attendant etc. Then there are the ‘biggies’ — application of all sorts of pressure to get some favour, money, property, valuable possessions etc etc, even the wills get rewritten under duress. Such practice is not at all uncommon and sadly occurs within all social categories. Sometimes to receive some basic service from relations, old people hand out money — ‘do my shopping, I’ll give you a fiver’ says the granny to her 12-year old grandson – it is his duty to help her but these days where money is everything, the youngsters expect such ‘hand outs'. These also are incorrect and do amount to financial abuse.

Conning the elderly, relatives or not, is common and even when the amount involved is not great, a small amount may mean a lot to a poor pensioner. I have already mentioned rogue traders – whilst most traders are honest and decent professionals delivering a good service with correct charges and do not attempt to 'con' older people living alone, a few are not; some of these cases have been detected by media reporters with hidden cameras and broadcast on national TV

From last year, the national sentencing council has introduced ‘stricter’ guidelines for such ‘crimes’ — the courts will be empowered to dish out more severe sentence to the 'fraudsters'. This is good news and if used, might act as a deterrent. My question is who will pick up and report such incidents? Perhaps all good neighbours, kind relatives need to keep their ears and eyes open, not for a witch hunt, but to spot any unjustified charges or missing money or a distant relative exerting pressure etc and quietly report the ‘incident' to the authorities.

As responsible law abiding citizens we all have a duty towards our vulnerable elderly – to me it is pure and simple common sense and a civic responsibility.

At the same time, ‘witchhunting’ is also not likely to produce desirable results and rectify such practice. What is needed is a general social awareness, the sort of thing already exists widely in relation to the abuse of children; there are special charities to support and publicise such cases. Abuse of housewives is also a well publicised issue. Although it may not be considered ‘important’, abuse of older people deserves more publicity and statutory attention/action. We sincerely hope that this new ‘legal’ step would be beneficial to some older people and act as a deterrent against such heinous behaviour to one of the vulnerables in the society