Information gathered under a freedom of information request from BBC radio 4 reveals that at least 23,428 safeguarding alerts were made between 2013/14 and 2015/16 about domiciliary care workers contracted by local authorities. The request was submitted to councils across the UK and only half of them responded to the request. This means that in reality the true figure could be far higher and the data doesn’t take into account those that pay for services privately.
The findings are particularly concerning as the allegations of abuse relate to alleged actions taken in the confines of the service user’s own home. Almost half (9700) the number of alerts were raised in relation to those aged over 80 years old. Over 12,300 alerts related to issues regarding neglect; over 3,400 alleged physical abuse; 2,400 alleged psychological abuse; and more than 400 made allegations of sexual abuse. The arguments that flow from such data as this focus on the chronic underfunding of the social care sector. Some argue this has allowed standards of care to slip and has in turn led to instances of abuse not being properly investigated or safeguarded against.
The number of allegations which convert into prosecutions are stark with only 700 of over 23,000 allegations involving police involvement. Of those 700, only 15 resulted in prosecutions being pursued. However, the figures do not indicate whether the safeguarding alerts were valid, if they were fully investigated or if the allegations were substantiated. It is therefore unclear if the high number of allegations is a result of an understandably sensitive set of people (the cared for and their relatives) submitting complaints that may not in reality constitute safeguarding concerns or if they are indicative of a sector unable to properly investigate concerns. Further still, the low ratio of allegations that led to police involvement but did not result in prosecution could be as much a reflection on the criminal prosecution system as the alleged abuse itself. The criminal offences of ill treatment and wilful neglect were introduced in 2015 to provide the ability to hold both care workers (who may commit acts of abuse) and providers (who have failed to have the appropriate systems and processes in place to monitor staff and service users) to account. This increased the ability for prosecutions in relation to service users who have capacity as it mirrors the offences under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (which only covers those service users who lacked capacity).
There have been increased calls for CCTV to be used in people’s own homes to help detect potential abuse. This could provide vital evidence to help make successful prosecutions of alleged abusers easier to achieve. However, it should be kept in mind that prevention is better than cure. Providers should ensure they have appropriate recruitment practices, staff supervisions, training and safeguarding policies in place to help protect against abuse.