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Structural discrimination and abuse: COVID-19 and people in care homes in England and Wales

Jonathan Parker (Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK)

The Journal of Adult Protection

ISSN: 1466-8203

Article publication date: 15 February 2021

Issue publication date: 23 June 2021




The purpose of this paper is to explore the significant and high death toll of COVID-19 on care home residents and social care staff in England and Wales. These mortality figures, alongside differential treatment of residents and staff during the pandemic, are conceptualized as a form of structural abuse. Arguments are made for the inclusion of structural abuse as a separate category of elder abuse.


This paper is predominantly conceptual but it also draws on available secondary data, such as mortality statistics, media reports and developing research.


The lack of appropriate personal protective equipment, paucity of guidance and high mortality rate among care home staff and residents during the pandemic is indicative of social discourses that, when underpinned by ageism, reflect structural elder abuse.

Research limitations/implications

The research is limited by its focus on a specific time period and its recency. It is also limited in not being based on primary empirical research but it remains exploratory and conceptual and provides a base for ongoing research in this area.

Social implications

If structural elder abuse was to be included in classifications, it demands a rethink of social and health-care services and the policies and practices associated with them and reinforces the government message that safeguarding is everyone’s business.


Research concerning the effects and impact of COVID-19 are still in their early stages. However, the central element of originality in the paper concerns the linking of practices, policies and underlying social assumptions and structural, or societally ingrained, elder abuse.



Parker, J. (2021), "Structural discrimination and abuse: COVID-19 and people in care homes in England and Wales", The Journal of Adult Protection, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 169-180.



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