Elderly people abused by carers in their own homes

According to a newly published report, as many as half of all care workers are failing to provide proper care for the elderly. Shocked politicians say the system needs urgent reform.

Ignored, abused, starved and robbed: this may sound like the treatment of criminals in 19th Century jails, but in fact this is a list of some of the ills suffered by elderly people at the hands of their care workers in Britain right now.

In a newly released report, the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission has criticised the council-funded care that is provided for elderly people in their own homes, saying that it breaches senior citizens’ human rights.

The report, titled Close to Home, is a catalogue of neglect and abuse suffered by elderly patients. Carers deliberately placed food and drink out of patients’ reach, were rude to their ‘clients’, and in extreme cases, attacked or stole from them. The privacy of elderly people was routinely ignored. Many were left depressed and tearful, in some cases saying they wanted to die.

The Commission claims that there is evidence of ‘systematic failure’ and ‘ageism‘ across the country. And it is not just at-home care that is a problem: back in May 2011, another report criticised hospitals when it found that a quarter of them were not offering satisfactory care to the elderly. Nurses were not providing patients with regular food, drink and medicine, and they forgot to keep up with other important tasks like weighing patients and checking that they were kept hydrated. Hospital staff were also failing to explain medical treatments to patients.

Elderly patient care may be worsening because the recession has meant cuts to public services, and there is less money available for councils to fund care workers. Some councils allow care workers rigid 15 minute slots for each home visit, so tasks are being neglected because carers do not have enough time to get everything done.

Whose responsibility?

Some people would argue that the real blame for these failures in elderly care lies not with government funded bodies like the NHS, but with the families of the patients. Children and grandchildren should take responsibility for care of their elders, and either take the time to care for them in a hands-on way, or they should employ private nurses out of their own pocket.

On the other hand, what becomes of the most vulnerable senior citizens, who have no remaining family, and may have little money of their own to pay for a care home? If there is no government funding for their care, they will be left completely isolated and may be put at risk. Ultimately, say many in the field, caring for the elderly must remain the responsibility of the state.

You Decide

  1. Should old people be looked after by their families or by the state?
  2. Do you live in an ageist society? What is ageism and what can be done about it?


  1. Who would you like to look after you when you are old? Would you like to stay in your own home or would you prefer to live with other people your own age? Discuss in groups what you think are the most important aspects of caring for people when they need some help.
  2. Have a look at the EHRC’sClose to Homereport. Draw up a list of solutions that you would put forward to raise the standard of patient care for the elderly. For example, should there be independent matrons – who are not employed by the NHS – to advocate on behalf of patients?

Some People Say...

“Looking after the elderly should be the number one priority in any country.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How is elderly patient care related to human rights?
While patients being cared for in hospitals or private care homes may receive bad treatment, they are protected legally by the Human Rights Act, which demands important rights for everyone such as the right to life and the right to be treated with dignity. Patients being cared for at home are not covered by this.
Shouldn’t people be able to expect good treatment anyway?
Some people think that the HRA is useless because human decency should cause us to treat people with respect naturally. Other people see it as an important legal safeguard of those rights.
Do care workers not treat people well because they are not paid enough?
Possibly, as being underpaid can cause people not to care about their work. But a lack of money also means that workers are not given enough time to do their job.

Word Watch

Equality and Human Rights Commission
An organisation that is separate from the government and takes responsibility for the promotion and enforcement of equality and non-discrimination laws in England, Scotland and Wales.
Systematic failure
This phrase suggests that there have been problems across the board in elderly care, and that failings have occurred because there are flaws in the way in which everything is organised.
In economics terms, this is a general slowing down of economic activity. This leads to fewer jobs being available, lower home values, rising food prices, and public debt.
The National Health Service. In Britain, this is a publicly funded organisation that provides free healthcare to all UK residents.
Prejudice or discrimination against people because of their age. People may be marginalised or abused because they are considered too young or too old.


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