Written evidence submitted by Hourglass (COR0075)


Hourglass is the only UK-wide charity that’s calling time on the harm, abuse and exploitation of older people. We have almost 30 years of experience listening and responding to those experiencing or concerned about the abuse of older people through our national helpline (0808 808 8141) and through our community-based recovery programmes.


The abuse of older people is a distinct phenomenon, Hourglass defines it as a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.


Our response to The Committee’s invitation for submissions on domestic abuse and risks of harm within the home during the crisis is offered within our safer ageing agenda. Older people face physical and attitudinal barriers that create circumstances of actual or presumed age-related vulnerability – an environment which puts older adults at risk. Our campaign for safer ageing seeks to remove these barriers in order to empower older people to age securely and live free from abuse.


We would like to offer evidence on the following issues:


The prevalence of these issues since the Government issued ‘stay at home’ guidance on 23 March;


  1. Hourglass would like to emphasise the distinction between domestic abuse and other forms of harm and abuse faced by older people within the home. Domestic abuse and the abuse of older people are coinciding concepts. An incident of domestic violence may constitute the abuse of an older person and visa-versa. The Hourglass definition of the abuse of older people, used by the World Health Organisation, describes ‘a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person’.


  1. Abusive behaviour to older people is widely tolerated. More than a million older people experience abuse or neglect in the UK every year. Findings from our polling conducted in January and February 2020, and so preceding any considerations surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, showed shockingly large tolerance towards abusive behaviour towards older people.
    1. 1 in 3 (34%) UK residents don’t believe that ‘acts of domestic violence directed towards an older person’ count as abuse. In London the figure is even higher, with close to half (44%) of all residents seemingly accepting of domestic violence towards older people.
    2. Polling demonstrated a lack of recognition of neglect as a form of harm and abuse. Nearly half of all those surveyed reported that ‘not attending to an older person’s needs in a timely fashion’ doesn’t constitute abuse (49%). 6 out of every 10 Londoners don’t believe this sort of neglect equates to abuse (59%).



  1. The diversification of community support since the government issued ‘stay at home’ guidance is re-shaping the relationships of trust for older people. Careful attention needs to be paid to the opportunities for harm emerging from the shifting expectation of trust onto neighbours and community volunteers necessitated by the isolation measures.
  2. Our helpline data demonstrates an increase of reports of or concerns about abuse of an older person where the perpetrator is a neighbour or son/daughter, contrary to the stereotype that abuse of adults in the home is predominantly perpetrated by intimate partners. Percentage of calls from the 16-day period 23rd March - 7th April 2018-2020:

2018 - Neighbour (1%), Partner (6.1%), Son/ Daughter (26.3%)

2019 - Neighbour (1.1%), Partner (4.6%), Son/Daughter (24.1%) 

2020 - Neighbour (3.4%), Partner (1.12%), Son/Daughter (30.3%)


  1. Our helpline data demonstrates a stable number of calls coming to our helpline. This is a point of concern given our knowledge that assaults and domestic murders surge by as much as 25% during a festive season – a time of increased financial strain and closer proximity of family members – for example in January 2020 calls to the Hourglass helpline spiked following the festive season reaching over 1200 calls in a single month. One theory suggests those experiencing or concerned about the abuse of an older person may not be able to make calls to seek support, indicating a need for diversifying the means of disclosure.


Measures or proposals to help support victims of domestic abuse and child abuse at this time;


  1. Government communications need to empower victims to seek support by recognising the multiple ways abuse and harm can manifest in the domestic sphere:
    1. Broaden communications to include a focus of family member abuse, as a high proportion of domestic abuse of older people is perpetrated by family members not just intimate partners. These incidents of harm are underreported and often not recognised as domestic abuse.
    2. Broaden communications to highlight abuse perpetrated by individuals where there is an expectation of trust. The social isolation restrictions increase the reliance older people have on neighbours, community volunteers and carers to provide assistance with shopping or money management. This increases opportunities for harm and abuse in the domestic sphere that might not be recognised as such by victims. 


  1. Identification of and investment in specialist organisations that can support a diversity of victims:
    1. The Home Office funding of £2 million needs to be distributed to make sure responder organisations for older, disabled, BAME and LGBT+ are supported as these organisations provide specialist knowledge of the differences among victims.
    2. Hourglass operates the only UK-wide helpline solely committed to those experiencing or concerned about the abuse of older people.


  1. Specialised refuge shelters:
    1. Older women underuse domestic abuse shelters. This has typically been because of: a lack of awareness (domestic abuse narratives do not generally have a focus on older victims); a lack of appropriate facilities for older women with health and mobility needs; and because older women are more likely to have experienced long-term, normalised abuse and as a result be less inclined to leave their home space. 
    2. Domestic abuse shelters need to also provide effective support for men, as a larger proportion of male victims of domestic abuse are over 60 (Safelives, 2016).
    3. Shelters do not have facilities to effectively care for those with underlying health needs, disabilities or physical or cognitive differences associated with old age. 48% of victims over 60 have a disability (Safelives, 2016). This is now of even greater concern for older people who require an environment that can provide adequate protection from COVID-19.


  1. Utilisation of the ‘Ask Angela’ model:
    1. The previous success of the ‘Ask Angela’ initiative demonstrates the usefulness of providing training with staff working at access points. The Home Affairs Committee 15/04 raised this suggestion in relation to supermarket and pharmacy staff. Greater consideration of the realistic access points for ‘high risk’ adults who are currently encouraged to practice shielding and remain in the home.
    2. A possible solution is to offer training to community volunteers, these networks across the country are offering older people help and support during isolation. These individuals are being given access to many older adults and training could both respond to and prevent abuse.


Measures or proposals to reduce or avert domestic abuse and child abuse at this time;


  1. New guidelines for adult safeguarding in a time of social isolation:
    1. For professionals: for example, how to recognise domestic violence in a telephone GP appointment.
    2. For individuals: for example, signs of domestic abuse in community outreach. This could be disseminated by community response networks.
  2. Money management programs:
    1. Feature daily assistance with monetary matters, including providing help with making deposits, paying household bills, and negotiating with creditors – and are targeted to those most at risk individuals, such as older people who are cognitively impaired or suffer from social isolation
    2. This is both a long and short term investment. In the short term, older adults need information and support on how they can immediately access and manage money. In the long term, online banking needs to become more accessible to older adults as a measure to reduce financial abuse.
  3. Caregiver support interventions:
    1. These measures can alleviate the stress and burden of caring for an older person and so act to prevent abuse. Investment is required to increase capacity and to diversify the provision of such interventions.
    2. The key services provided by these programmes need to be adapted for the present environment. Where typical support such as meal preparation, housekeeping help or day care is not practical, providers need to offer digital caregiving help through wellbeing support, teaching coping strategies or online support groups.
  4. Perpetrator schemes:
    1. Coordination of perpetrator schemes to prevent abuse need to consider the diversity of perpetrators committing acts of abuse against older people. Perpetrators of the abuse of older people can be family members, carers, intimate partners, neighbours or other relatives.
    2. Our helpline data demonstrates the variety of perpetrator types in helpline calls. From the period of March 2019- March 2020:

Neighbour (2.1%)

Partner (8%)

Son/Daughter (29.3%)

Grandchild (2%)

Other Family Member (8.2%)

Friend (4.4%)

Professional (8.3%)

Other (10%)

N/A (27,9%)

Preparedness of responders and service providers to address the needs of victims during the pandemic; and


  1. Hourglass plans to deliver training for all staff on the response to COVID-19 in relation to the increased risks of abuse. This training will enable best practice, and will provide staff with an effective knowledge of specialised signposting organisations and opportunities to help deal with COVID-19 related abuse.


  1. We are seeing a diversification of the types of calls received on our helpline: as well as calls from those experiencing or concerned about abuse, a larger number of calls concern loneliness and isolation. These concerns are risk factors to abuse. We have responded to this with up-to-date signposting to charities specialised in loneliness and isolation while also offering emotional support. 


  1. We have invested in increasing our capacity to cope with fluctuations in demand on the helpline. All current staff across the charity are currently receiving specialist training to receive helpline calls.


  1. Hourglass has responded to this crisis through information sharing internally, and from other organisations. We have used resources provided by Victim Support and Age UK to provide our service with the most up to date information for where to signpost callers for the best support.



The effectiveness of Government advice, co-ordination and support for responders and service providers.


  1. The Government advice that ‘the household isolation instruction as a result of coronavirus does not apply if you need to leave your home to escape domestic abuse’ has been widely publicised. Although this is vital advice for many victims of abuse, for older victims leaving the household or moving to isolate within a different household poses significant risk to the individual and also to public health.


  1. The ‘silent solution’ (dialling 55). There has been insufficient information provided about this measure. It is unclear for users that this only applies for calls made with a mobile, and that the caller must listen and respond to the call operator.


  1. The dissemination of information about support by the Government is largely digital. Given accounts of ‘tech abuse’, where power and control are expressed through restricting access to digital technologies, and given the likelihood that some older people will have a lower digital literacy, older adults are an acutely vulnerable group in this regard. Older victims must not be left in the dark about where to seek support.


  1. The most effective support Government can offer at this time is comprehensive funding to ensure the sustainability of charities providing vital services, such as our specialist helpline. At a time where traditional funding streams have dried up, charities risk losing up to 50% of their income while contending with up to 43% increased demand for their services (Institute of Fundraising). An additional package of funding to frontline response charities specialising in areas of particular risk is vital to ensure older people are not left vulnerable to abuse, harm and exploitation.



April 2020