By Russell Findlay
The head of a group that represents Scotland’s private care providers is backing calls for hate crime laws to protect the elderly.
Dr Donald Macaskill is chief executive of Scottish Care, whose membership includes 400 private companies.
The Scottish Government is considering expanding hate crime laws to include a victim’s age as an aggravating factor, as recommended by judge Lord Bracadale.
Dr Macaskill – speaking to STV News in today’s second part of our two-day special report on elderly abuse – says that old people deserve the same legal protection as other minority groups.
He said: “Both personally and Scottish Care, we fully support the recommendations of Lord Bracadale.
“If individuals commit an offence against an individual because of their age and if that can be proven then that to me is a hate incident and that should be dealt with with the fullest force of the law.
“Those who are old deserve the same rights, the same dignity as those who might lead their lives as members of the LGBTI community or who might belong to a minority ethnic community.
“We discriminate against the old by not treating older individuals equally.”
There are around 40,000 elderly people in residential care in Scotland – a greater number than the population of Stirling.
The private sector accounts for around half of the estimated 200,000-strong care workforce and provides 83% of all care home places.
Since 2015, all residential care home staff have been registered and regulated by the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC). In that time, more than 250 have been struck off for a catalogue of criminality and serious misconduct.
Yesterday, we told how thousands of care-at-home workers will not be registered until September 2020.
Dr Macaskill today identifies another group exempt from SSSC registration – which requires a care qualification and stringent background checks.
He said: “There are loopholes and one of the loopholes is that in some parts of Scotland you can establish yourself as a personal assistant and be directly employed by an individual rather than through an organisation.
“So Scottish Care has argued that everybody who works with vulnerable children or adults should be criminal record-checked and should be liable to registration and oversight. That’s not the case with everybody at the moment.”
One long-serving carer discovered she was unable to register with the SSSC to become a personal assistant – employed directly by an elderly person.
Carol, who wants to remain anonymous, says she raised concerns about the loophole which puts “people at huge risk of abuse” with then justice secretary Michael Matheson two years ago.
She told STV News: “I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. As far as I know, nothing has been done about it.
“The care profession is my career because I care about people. I don’t want to be associated with a profession that puts people at risk.
“The whole point of the care profession is to support and assist people and to minimise any risk to them and this is not doing that because there is no monitoring there.”
Asked if this may have opened a door to abusers, she said: “I certainly wouldn’t be surprised because the loophole’s there. They’re definitely going to use it if they’re abusers.”
Henry Simmons, chief executive of Alzheimer Scotland, says there should be “zero tolerance” of abuse and that it could be reduced by valuing staff and giving them decent pay, conditions and training.
He said: “Some of the situations, quite frankly, we have to ask ourselves ‘how on earth do people who are going to behave like that find their way into this sector?’.
“This is a sector that requires a high level of caring, a real vocational approach and people who are committed to looking after the rights of the most vulnerable people in society.
“The level of trust that is placed, particularly in the individual workers in care-at-home environments, means that we really have to have that higher level of confidence within them.
“About 10% of that workforce are still on zero-hour contracts. The level of security that many of that workforce have in terms of their employment is very poor.”
Also proposed is the creation of an organisation to represent care workers’ interests, which was discussed in a recent inquiry by the Fair Work Convention.
Mr Simmons, who chaired the quango’s inquiry, said: “There isn’t an established collective voice for this group of workers unlike nursing or other forms of the health and social care system.
“There is no-one representing this workforce and having a voice to make sure their terms, their conditions their support is delivering fair work, so I think we’ve got to tackle that.
“In these circumstances I think that is probably one of the most significant problems that led to this inconsistency and this lack of real professionalisation of this workforce.
“I’m deeply concerned that we as a society are not really valuing this group of staff to the extent that we should and we are really seeing the whole social care system is something that is part of a market-based approach which actually really it is not.”
Outspoken broadcaster Jeremy Paxman last week claimed that old people are the last section of society that can be joked about.
The 69-year-old political journalist, criticising the ‘snowflake generation’ in Saga magazine, said: “Just about the only sector of society that is fair game is old people.
“I know, I have made plenty of jokes about them myself.”
Scottish Care chief executive Donald Macaskill believes Paxman’s comments make a serious point about the acceptability of mocking the elderly.
He said: “Personally I don’t think there is anything more heinous than to harm somebody who is defenceless, who is vulnerable, perhaps because of dementia or cognitive ability.
“For too many, discrimination on the grounds of age is acceptable. It’s become the butt of a joke. It’s become something we accept in our media and in our culture and we need to call it out.
“Ageism is unacceptable. At its worst it results in criminal act and harm.”