21/05/2003

Crime fears imprison elderly at home

Thousands of elderly people are trapped at home because of increased fears over street crime, according to a report published by Age Concern.

In what the charity claims is the UK's largest ever survey of the fear of street crime amongst older people, 37% of the over 50s and 47% of over 75s said that they were "too afraid" to leave the house at night because they feared verbal abuse and mugging. But almost one in five admitted that fear of crime had left them feeling "lonely and isolated".

More than 4,000 older people responded to the Age Concern questionnaire, in which 61% demanded more police on the beat or more visible policing. Respondents also called for better street lighting, safer public transport, more CCTV surveillance and an improved understanding between young and old.

Age Concern said that statistically the chances of becoming a victim of street crime in later life were slimmer than at any other time in people’s lives. Yet two-thirds of the older people surveyed believed that they were more likely to fall victim to street crime as they grew older.

Despite their fears, older people have proved that they are themselves a strong resource in the battle against crime and fear of crime. The majority of older people report street crime (66%) and 60% said they would like more information about crime prevention schemes.

Following the report, Age Concern has called on policy makers, crime prevention agencies and their partners to use the resources of older people in their efforts to develop crime prevention and to eliminate a culture of fear.

Gordon Lishman, Age Concern England’s Director-General, said: “Fear of street crime has trapped many older people inside their own four walls, putting them at risk of loneliness and isolation. It is not only older people who stand to lose out by being prisoners of fear, but also the wider community.

“Communities, who rely on older people’s skills, experience and voluntary work are missing out on a valuable resource.”

Debora Singer, Policy Manager at Victim Support, said: "We are very concerned by the results of Age Concern's survey. Older people are effectively becoming prisoners in their own homes, but the reality is their fear is out of proportion to the risk. We need to help older people feel safer on the streets and fully support Age Concern's campaign.”

Age Concern’s recommendations to reduce older peoples’ fear of street crime include: increasing the visible presence of law-enforcement agencies on the streets; supporting older people to participate directly in schemes such as Neighbourhood Watch and Crime stoppers; and creating more intergenerational programmes to foster trust and understanding between older and young people.

In terms f regional differences, people in the South West were the most fearful of all at 39%, with people in the Eastern Region and East Anglia, coming out second highest at 38%. People in the North East (at 31%) were least likely to stay in after dark because of fear of crime.

(GMcG)

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