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An elderly woman lost her flat because she gave her daughter power of attorney

Tragic case highlights the community's hidden crisis, as Jewish Care warns rabbis of the dangers of elder abuse

    Jewish Care gave examples of elder abuse, including a 94-year-old woman whose daughter sold her flat and kept the proceeds and couple who 'shul hop' to befriend vulnerable people at synagogues
    Jewish Care gave examples of elder abuse, including a 94-year-old woman whose daughter sold her flat and kept the proceeds and couple who 'shul hop' to befriend vulnerable people at synagogues

    Like many elderly people keen to put their affairs in order, Ellen gave her daughter “lasting power of attorney” and control of her estate.

    Ellen did not for one moment consider that her only daughter would abuse that power. But she did.

    Jewish Care reports that three years ago, the daughter sold Ellen’s flat, transferring the proceeds into her own bank account.

    According to Barbara Jacobson, Jewish Care’s head of safeguarding: “The money has been used to fund a lovely lifestyle for the family, leaving mum [who is now 94] with no money to pay for her care home fees and without basic daily necessities such as toiletries or new clothes.

    “We often come across people who justify spending mum or dad’s money on themselves by telling us: ‘It’s what they would have wanted’.”

    Ellen’s case is tragic but far from a one-off. In collaboration with Jewish Women’s Aid and Action on Elder Abuse, Jewish Care is this week launching a campaign to highlight the growing problem of elder abuse within the community.

    To spread the word, a letter from the charity’s chief executive, Daniel Carmel-Brown, has been sent to rabbis of shuls in London and the South-East.

    From April 2017 to March 2018, Jewish Care dealt with 54 cases of abuse of a person aged over 65. In the majority of cases, the abuser was someone known to the victim.

    Around a quarter of the cases were of physical abuse; 18 per cent were psychological and 15 per cent involved neglect. Ten per cent were financial, seven per cent were described as “domestic abuse” and four per cent were sexual. The remaining 21 per cent were categorised as discriminatory, self-neglect or multiple factors.

    Figures from April 2018 to the end of the year show 38 cases reported to Jewish Care’s community support and social work team, with just over half the victims aged 85 or over.

    Of these, 24 per cent involved neglect, 21 per cent were physical and another 21 per cent were financial. In 16 per cent of cases, the abuse was psychological and five per cent involved domestic violence.

    The remaining 13 per cent related to cases featuring multiple types of abuse.

    Jewish Care has written to rabbis, warning them of the danger of elder abuse
    Jewish Care has written to rabbis, warning them of the danger of elder abuse (Photo: Getty Images)

    JWA says it has supported 29 women of 65 or above over the past year. The Fed in Manchester and Leeds Jewish Welfare Board also report a worrying number of elder abuse cases.

    Ms Jacobson said relatives given power of attorney often did not put the interests of the elderly first.

    “It’s not your money to spend as you wish. You are expected to keep the donor’s finances and possessions separate from your own and keep accurate accounts showing what you have done.

    “Just because a family member has spent the money, it doesn’t mean that a local authority will ask no questions and pick up the care bill.”

    She pointed out that in Ellen’s case, both the police and local authority were now involved.

    “If questions are asked and you are seen to have unlawfully taken or spent money you are supposed to be looking after, you can be liable for prosecution — or at least an investigation into spending and management of finances.”

    Angela Murphy, Jewish Care’s director of community services, observed that “systematic abuse happens behind the safe wall of our community — it is just not talked about.

    She believes the cases known to Jewish Care are only “the tip of the iceberg.

    “The figures we have only represent those who have come forward to us, or where our team have been in contact with an individual and raised concerns of abuse with them.

    “We know there are other victims out there in our community. Vulnerable people are often too scared to come forward and abusers are getting away with their crime.”

    Although reports in the media about elder abuse often focus on instances in care establishments, Ms Murphy said it was more likely to occur “behind closed doors at home.

    “We are talking about not cutting corners when it comes to organising care. Don’t get in unregulated services. There are risks with getting in the cleaner for extra hours instead of looking for appropriate services.”

    Phone and internet scammers also targeted the elderly.

    Among other cases dealt with by Jewish Care is that of Rachel, who contacted the charity to say her husband was “verbally aggressive towards her”. She said that when she fell out of bed, he was aware of the fall but “would not call an ambulance and said she could stay on the floor until the GP arrived in the morning for a pre-arranged appointment”.

    A sign of emotional abuse could be depriving a person of their right to make decisions. Or “gaslighting”, an attempt to make someone think they are mad by telling them what they think, see or remember is incorrect.

    “If we understand this issue and can identify key signs of abuse, we can reach out to those who may be at risk and seek relevant support for them,” Ms Murphy said.

    “It is there — people just need to know where to turn to.”

    Physical abuse of an older person can include spitting, hitting, pinching, pushing, inappropriate use of restraints, over-medicating, force feeding or rough handling.

    JWA reports that elder abuse “within the context of domestic violence is a very real issue and needs to be recognised as such”.

    The charity’s research indicates that a woman typically contacts JWA for support 11-and-a-half years after the abuse starts, a significantly longer timeframe than the national average. Some of its clients have been in abusive relationships for more than 50 years.

    Chief executive Naomi Dickson said “people often assume that domestic violence and abuse only happens to young people. In fact, we are seeing increasing numbers of older women.

    “For some, they may have been experiencing abuse for decades, but wait until after their husband dies before they feel able to disclose the abuse. For others, the husband may become more abusive as he ages — and for others the abuse begins because he is developing dementia.”

    JWA’s oldest client was 86 — and her abusive husband was 92.

    Jewish Care cited the case of a couple who had been married for more than 50 years whose relationship had turned violent.

    “Mr Cohen was diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson’s, which impacted on his mood and his anger levels.

    “He raised his fist to his wife in the past, but she recently called us as he had hit her twice in one week. She is concerned about her safety.”

    As an example of neglect, the charity said it received a call from Emma, who was concerned to have discovered that “her dad locks her mum in the house when he goes to the shop, fearful that she might wander off as she has done in the past.

    “Emma reported bad smells in the house and evidence of faeces on the floor. Since she contacted us, we have been able to support the family. The dad was struggling to cope. His wife now lives in a care home where she receives the support and care she needs.”

    At The Fed, chief executive Mark Cunningham said: “It is a sad reality of the society we live in that we don’t cherish the elderly.

    “Most of the cases we see involve people from outside the home preying on vulnerable people. People who doorstep and those who try to charge over the appropriate price for work for replacing a boiler is something we see a lot.” Online scams were also a problem. “There is an assumption that older people don’t know how to use social media or the internet. They do. They just might not know how to best protect themselves, especially if they are lonely.”

    Mr Cunningham said The Fed, which supports more than 500 elderly Jews in the Manchester area, records two to three cases of serious financial abuse annually — with at least one case involving financial abuse from within the family.

    “One case is too much. There is this idea that our parents’ money is our money and we have had people emptying the bank account before paying for the care their parents need.

    “Self-neglect is very common, especially in relationships where the couple are not getting the right support. If one person is caring for the other, it is typical that they put their partner’s need before their own.” He added that elder abuse “isn’t always expected or talked about” within the Jewish community and people did not know the tell-tale signs.

    Liz Bradbury, chief executive of Leeds Jewish Welfare Board, said the charity had established “an elder support service. We man a listening line for older people so they can call and talk to someone about their well-being.”

    LJWB also employs a mental health trainer dedicated to spotting early signs of abuse and need.

    “Someone’s mental health will deteriorate if they are suffering from abuse.”

    She said it was difficult to quantify the extent of the problem because “many cases are going unreported. The low-level abuses happen more often. But that doesn’t mean we don’t see examples of big ones.”

    Ms Bradbury had come across many instances of older people being pressured by family members into finding cheaper care options to save money for the inheritance. “The local authorities do not fund the appropriate level of care so inevitably some people cut corners,” she said.

    As part of the awareness campaign, Jewish Care will be holding information evenings to help local leaders and others understand more about elder abuse.

    * All names of victims have been changed

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