People Ageing without Children In Focus

“There is nothing invisible in this universe, there is only our lack of eyesight” Mehmet Murat ildan

Four years ago, Ageing without Children completed its research [1] “Our Voices” which looked at the experiences of people ageing without children. The report can be found here The number one issue raised by every focus groups was that of the invisibility of people ageing without children in society, in policy and in the media. This invisibility was made up of many factors.

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Participants expressed frustration and anger that they were simply erased from the narratives around ageing and society which were deeply rooted in family and family connectedness.

Covid19 has shone a harsh spotlight on that invisibility. Media reports around older people have focused heavily on the appalling situation in care homes and the fact that people are unable to see their families. Footage of older people bravely waving to grandchildren or talking to them on skype through the windows reinforces the sense of tragedy about families being cut off from one another on top of everything else, and yet it is people ageing without children who are 25% more likely to be in a care home. One study showed that non mothers are twice as likely to end their lives in care homes as mothers, and yet there has been no coverage of older people without children in care homes. It as if because they are not parents or grandparents the public will not care enough about them to empathise or sympathise.

That is why Independent Age’s In focus report which includes a focus on people ageing without children is so welcome. It is worth repeating that the 1.5 million people ageing without children mentioned in the report will be at least 2 million in 10 years’ time, and that it only includes people who have no children at all. In addition, hundreds of thousands of older people are unable to rely on support from adult children for a variety of reasons including estrangement, children living at a long distance or their adult children have care needs of their own. The report confirms what other research has told us, namely that ageing without children is less of an issue when you are younger, healthy, financially stable and well connected but that if that changes, it is much more difficult to get help either paid or unpaid. It also highlights that people over 65 ageing without children are more likely to live alone (49% compared to 34% of those who have children) and less likely to use the internet (41%% compared to 34% for those with children). The last one is a particular problem in Covid19 world where everything is now digital by default leaving people ageing without children even more isolated than others. They cannot skype or zoom others to relive feelings of isolation, take advantage of priority shopping slots from online supermarkets, pay bills online or even register as a vulnerable person as the government requires that to be done online, and they have no children to do it for them.

There is already much talk of how social care must be different in the post pandemic world and no doubt people are already putting together working groups on how it should look. It is vital that this includes how we rewrite social care to ensure equal access for people ageing without children who have both less likely to receive informal care and paid for care and more likely to have unmet care needs.

We have an opportunity to really think about how the needs of people ageing without children can be truly integrated into policy, planning and narratives around ageing. Let us not waste it.

[1] Ageing without Children dissolved in 2019

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