Older women’s human rights in the UK – how are we doing?

This blog was contributed by Elizabeth Sclater, Secretary General of the Older Women’s Network, Europe

It’s just over a month since I returned from the UN in Geneva. I was accredited by the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO), one of 40 people representing UK NGOs gathered for four days in July to lobby and support the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee members as they ‘examined’ the UK Government’s progress in implementing women’s human rights in the UK. As the only one with a focus on older women, it was important to ensure older age was mainstreamed in all our work, as well as highlighting the continuing and particular human rights challenges we as older women face in the UK. Continue reading “Older women’s human rights in the UK – how are we doing?”

Care Bill: How the Human Rights Act can provide a safety net

Winterbourne View, Operation Jasmine, the EHRC’s Close to Home report and the harrowing story of Gloria Foster are all recent examples, and there are many more, of how the human rights of those receiving care have been breached. One would assume that protecting someone from abuse, neglect or undignified treatment would be the first priority of those providing care, however, in some cases it is clear that it is not so.

440x210_care_homeIn this context it is vital that the law acts to protect who are vulnerable to human rights abuses. The Human Rights Act 1998 states that ‘It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.’ Simply put, this means that public bodies have a duty to respect and protect people’s human rights to fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy.  Where they fail in this regard they can be challenged in the courts.

Age UK has long been concerned that not all older people receiving care benefit from this vital source of protection. Certain groups of older people including those who receive home care services provided by private and third sector organisations under a contract to the local authority and those who arrange and pay for their own care are currently not directly protected under the Human Rights Act. Continue reading “Care Bill: How the Human Rights Act can provide a safety net”

Guest blog – Protected or ignored characteristics?

This blog was contributed by Jo Moriarty, a Research Fellow at King’s College London, in the Social Care Workforce Research Unit. She co-authored the evidence review Diversity in older people and access to services with Unit Director, Jill Manthorpe.

The Equality Act 2010 made existing anti-discrimination legislation simpler and removed inconsistencies. It covers nine so-called ‘protected characteristics’, aspects of our identity such as religion, race, gender, age, or sexuality, which cannot be used as reasons for treating us unfairly.

photo by spruce bingsteenSome older people may avoid asking for help because they think they won’t receive equal treatment, in spite of sharing a particular protected characteristic, such as being gay.

Age UK asked us to investigate whether five key services – falls prevention, home from hospital schemes, handyperson schemes, befriending, and day opportunities – successfully offer support across all older people, regardless of any ‘protected characteristic’.

It seemed a straightforward task. Researchers today have access to masses of material. We can trawl through specialist databases containing thousands of research papers published each year. Many organisations such as Age UK publish their research reports online and for free. Continue reading “Guest blog – Protected or ignored characteristics?”

Guest Blog: The involvement of ‘older people’ in research and other projects

This guest blog was contributed by Bill Bytheway, Visiting Research Fellow at the Open University, and author of Unmasking Age (Policy Press, 2011).

On page 124 of my book, ‘Ageism’ (1995), I attempted to describe how ‘a room for older people’ might admit anyone, regardless of age, on the basis of self-definition. I argued that it would be perfectly feasible and acceptable for anyone to enter it, and request services designed to assist ‘older’, rather than ‘younger’, people. In making the case, I remembered a woman of 55 who lived on her own and was in hospital with a broken leg. At the time (the mid-1980s) I was working for a hospital discharge scheme that focused exclusively on patients aged 65 or more. ‘Is there any help available to people like me?’ she asked. It was this simple question which made me realise how ageist all forms of age bar are, no matter how well-intentioned.

The RoAD (Research on Age Discrimination) projectwas undertaken between

The research team and field workers from the RoAD project

2004 and 2007 by a team based at the Open University, working in collaboration with Help the Aged. When we were planning the project, we decided to involve older people at all stages and in all roles and that, in implementing this aim, we would not impose any age bars. No one would be deemed too old or too young to take part. The only requirement was that participants should understand that they were involved, possibly amongst other things, as ‘older people’.

Continue reading “Guest Blog: The involvement of ‘older people’ in research and other projects”

Ban on Age Discrimination

This blog was contributed by Alison Fenney, Age UK’s Equalities and Human Rights Policy Adviser.

Age discrimination is the most common form of discrimination in the UK and Age UK has campaigned long and hard for legislation to deal with this.  The Government’s recent announcement that the ban on age discrimination in the provision of goods and services (with the exception of financial services), will finally come into force on October 1 2012, is therefore very welcome news.

We hope this legislation will herald a sea change in society’s view of older people, a view too often characterised by an emphasis on biological decline and economic burden ignoring the contribution offered by older people in employment, volunteering and in  caring for partners, children and other family members. 

The most positive aspect of this legislation is the impact it will have in health and social care services. For example, in cancer care we know that age is a key factor in determining survival, in part because older people are currently under treated and experience poorer outcomes as a result. The Department of Health itself acknowledges that older people currently receive worse outcomes in treatment of cancer as the result of age discrimination.

We are also expecting to see changes in mental health services which frequently discriminate against older people not offering them access to the range of services available to younger adults despite having the same need.

However the legislation is not an unmitigated cause for celebration. The wide exception that has been granted to the financial services industry is very disappointing. This exception means that older people can for example still be discriminated against when trying to obtain insurance or banking services purely on the basis of their age.

We accept providers of risk-related services should be able to use age to assess risk and decide price provided that they can supply evidence that they are doing so in a way that is proportionate to risk. However we do not feel that the exception will ensure that this condition is met. We know that ageism in financial services causes worry and distress for many older people, limiting their choices and increasing costs. We will therefore continue to press for financial services to be subject to the ban and urge the Government to keep the impact of this exception under close scrutiny.

Overall the legislation is very welcome, requiring those providing services to consider their practices and policies in relation to older people. However by itself, it will not be sufficient to change negative attitudes towards ageing.  Ultimately we need to learn how to value older people better, appreciating their talents and not just seeing a date on a passport. The ban on age discrimination is a welcome step towards this.

Age UK is pressing to ensure goods, services and job opportunities are accessible to people of all ages and from all communities. Find out more about our equalities and human rights work.

Read more about age discrimination

Elder abuse and safeguarding

This guest blog was contributed by Mary Cox, Safeguarding Advisor in Age UK’s Service Development team.

In England there is no legal definition of elder abuse and no specific legislation for protecting vulnerable people in later life from abuse. Yet not a week goes by without our staff and volunteers encountering situations where a person’s human or civil rights having been violated by another person. This is why safeguarding is central to Age UK’s duty of care towards all people in later life.

Safeguarding encompasses prevention, empowerment, protection and justice. It is a process that allows people to live with as much independence as possible while maintaining their fundamental human right to live a life free from abuse and neglect.

Photo: Rosie O’Beirne

Our commitment to preventing the mistreatment of people in later life includes promoting awareness of seven types of abuse: emotional, financial, physical, sexual, discriminatory, institutional and neglect. But in practice it is rare to find one type of abuse occurring in isolation. Often, situations involve ‘multiple abuse’ where two or more types of abuse are occurring simultaneously.

Understanding how and why people abuse, whether it is deliberate or unintentional, is central to our work. Also, being aware of the barriers that people face in sharing their concerns about the way they are treated by relatives, friends or ‘professional’ personnel is essential in responding effectively to our clients’ needs. We have found that there is a strong correlation between providing training and support to staff and volunteers, and an increase in the number of abuse cases we have identified.

Find out more about elder abuse and safeguarding

No delay to ending age discrimination

For older people the landmark Equality Bill should become a reality in 2012. Regulations banning age discrimination in products and services are due to come into force in April 2012. Age UK, older people and the age sector fought long and hard for this legislation to bring better protection for older people.  However, rumours are circulating that there may be a delay to its implementation and that that key proposals may be watered down. We are currently seeking clarification from the Government on this matter.

Age discrimination is the most common form of discrimination in the UK and prejudice and disrespect is at the root of much of the disadvantage older people face. This includes abuse, neglect, second class services, social segregation and restricted opportunities.

Without the greater protection that the new law would afford, older people will continue to be discriminated against. Any departure from the April timetable could send the wrong message to business, health, social care services: that age doesn’t matter.

The harrowing accounts of the ill-treatment of older people in the recent Health Service Ombudsman’s report are a key example as to why we need to act now. Poor treatment on the basis of age is unacceptable and this report showed how important it is to give people legal backing to challenge unfair treatment.

The Government has committed to supporting anti-age discrimination laws, the Ministers responsible, Theresa May and Lynne Featherstone, have written: “We believe that implementing this provision is important. If age discrimination is wrong at work, it is equally wrong outside work. Discrimination can form a significant barrier to people’s opportunities in life, preventing greater freedom, mobility and choice.

“When older customers are turned away from the marketplace through unfair treatment, the economy misses out on increased business and revenue, and costs to the State increase as families suffer the ill effects of social exclusion. Ensuring that services can flourish which meet the needs of people of all ages and help individuals achieve their aspirations for better later lives is a very important goal.”

We hope the Government will maintain their commitment to combating age discrimination and implement these regulations on time.

More information about the age discrimination law from the Age UK website
What is ageism? Read our easy-to-understand guide