I was delighted to read Lord Bracadale’s recent recommendation that the Scottish Government should consider including offences motivated by age-related hostility as hate crimes. If adopted, Scotland will be the first part of the UK to offer such protection in our criminal justice framework, and allow many abused older people to finally access justice. 

However, I feel I must caution that this proposal does not go anywhere near the level of protection older people need because it only covers situations involving hostile intent, a small percentage of the elder abuse crimes that we witness. That is not enough. 

We are campaigning for prosecutions to take account of all situations where older people are targeted for theft, exploitation, assault or other crimes because of their perceived vulnerability. In reality, the vast majority of elder abuse is committed by people known to the older person in a position of trust and happens because they are seen as vulnerable, not because of ‘hatred’ or hostility based on age.

While prosecutions can currently occur for theft, assault or fraud against an older person, they happen too infrequently and they take no account of the aggravated circumstances of the crimes i.e. the frailty and vulnerability of the victim. This is a fault in our legal system that we must address. Moreover, research suggests there is real public support for this change in law. Last summer, we carried out a poll which revealed that 93% of Scottish people would support making elder abuse a hate crime, with a further 95% of people agreeing that older people are specifically targeted for abuse due to their perceived physical frailty or mental vulnerability.

For too long, the fact that older people are obviously targeted by criminals because of their often obvious age-related vulnerabilities is something that seems to be repeatedly overlooked by our courts, with offenders all too often receiving desultory punishments such as fines and deferred sentences. Although Lord Bracadale has not ruled out our proposal, he recommends it should be considered in a different legal context (outwith hate crime) at a later stage.  However, the abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable older people is an increasing problem across Scotland. When is it going to receive the priority that it deserves?