Charity welcomes government action on older gay couples

PinkNews Staff Writer May 20, 2008
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The government has said it will issue guidance to local authorities restricting them from splitting older couples who are married or in a civil partnership when placing them in care.

Action on Elder Abuse, (AEA) the leading specialist charity dealing with the abuse of older people, welcomed today’s announcement.

“For many older people, the experience of giving up their own homes to go into a care home is a difficult and traumatic one,” said Gary FitzGerald, Chief Executive of AEA.

“But it can be made intolerable if they are also forced to part from their loved partner.  In today’s Britain this should not be an option.

“By issuing this guidance the Government has sent a clear message that meeting the care needs of older people is more than about simply finding them a care home or care service.

“It must include ensuring that their marital status, (including civil partnerships), are protected and maintained.

“We have seen too many situations where very old and very frail people, who have lived together for decades, have been parted in the last years of their lives.  This is plain wrong.”

The realities of civil partnerships and older gay people’s increased visibility has led some care providers to ask questions about sexual orientation.

Last year Conservative MPs attacked a social care authority for issuing forms to elderly care home residents which included a question about their sexual orientation.

“The evidence is that where people are most confident that they will be supported they are more willing to be open with their health and social care providers about their sexuality,” Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Health, said in February.

“We need to ensure that we provide a service that is not merely neutral but totally positive on sexual
orientation and gender identity.”

Age Concern has produced a resource pack to help those working in care homes and extra-care housing support older lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.

“Older people have lived a large part of their lives in less liberal times and that their experiences have made them understandably wary and cautious,” the charity explained.

“In practice, this means older lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are less likely to access services and will do so on limited terms.”

In October the Daily Express reported that thousands of the new “quality assurance” packs have been sent to every care home in England by the Commission for Social Care Inspection.

They ask residents to state their age, religion, disabilities and nationality – and whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual.

The move infuriated Tory politicians, who branded the questions an affront to the elderly and a waste of time.

An organisation that works for better services for older LGBT people told that the MPs have missed the point and are in denial that any old people could be gay.

Lindsay River, director of Polari, called the Express story biased.

“It used words like “demanding” to know a person’s sexual orientation, which is not the case.

“The Express approach fails to understand the issues here – in this case they have just used it to make political capital against sexual orientation monitoring.”

Conservative health spokesman Mike Penning told the Express:

“I can’t see how this is going to contribute to anyone’s well-being. In fact, I can see that it will do the exact opposite.”

Tory MP Philip Davies wanted to know why the sexuality of care home residents was relevant.

“This is political correctness plumbing new depths,” he said.

“The Conservative MPs quoted in the Express have missed the point completely,” Ms River told

“They talk about the issue as if older people couldn’t possibly be gay, as if LGB people in their nineties are an impossibility.”

The quality assurance packs, sent to all 18,500 homes in England, who between them have more than 420,000 residents, come in three parts – for staff, for the family of residents and for residents themselves.

The first eight pages of all three packs are identical, asking 12 questions about the quality of service in the home.

Only the residents’ forms have the extra page containing the seven optional questions.

The Commission for Social Care Inspection, who produced the forms, told that they are anonymous and state clearly that residents do not have to answer the questions at the back if they do not want to.

A spokesperson said:

“As the regulator for care services in England, CSCI encounters people who experience discrimination, social exclusion and harassment because of their gender, age, sexual orientation, race, belief or disability.

“We have to check how well services are meeting their responsibilities under the equalities legislation to promote, and respond to, different aspects of diversity.

“To do this we need to gather information about people who use services and give them a chance to tell us, if they wish, about themselves and if they consider they have experienced any discrimination.

“This applies to people of all ages.

“The questionnaire for residents of care homes covers a wide range of issues and is one of the ways in which we gather information to use in our assessment of how homes are performing.

“The questions were designed in consultation with people who use services and with organisations that represent minority groups affected by equality laws.

“We include wording to make it clear that people do not have to answer the diversity questions if they do not want to.”

Ms River added that care of LGB older people is a growing issue.

“There is not appropriate support and accommodation for older LGB people. Some do want to be in a home with other LGB people and at the moment there is no provision for that.

“There are not enough choices and options at the moment. The issue of homophobia and person-centred care for LGB people is a very pressing concern and is not being adequately addressed.”

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