The invisible non grannies

I often describe people ageing without children as “the invisible million” because around 1.5 million people over 65 do not have any children. The coverage of Covid19 has thrown into stark and frankly frightening relief how deep rooted that invisibility is. It is has now become completely normal to frame the coverage & discussion around older people in terms of “don’t kill your granny” or “if Covid doesn’t get granny, loneliness will”. Older people it seems now equals “granny” not a granny? well then as far as the Covidd narrative on ageing goes you simply dont exist. Only a few weeks ago the ONS published their paper on the impact of the increasing number of childless women on the care system. The paper clearly delineated that because they could not rely on family care to the extent those with children do, they were more likely to need paid for care especially residential care. People ageing without children are at least 25% more likely to be in a care home; some studies have put it as high as 50%. Not that you would know this as the coverage of the care home issue relentlessly focuses on those with children & grandchildren. There is an obvious reason for this; it’s peoples children and grandchildren that are lobbying. It’s they who go to the papers, appear on news bulletins, lobby MPs and write letters.

Given that is the case, it is vital that the large age organisations concerned with age & ageing remember to speak up for people ageing without children, clearly identifying them as a forgotten and overlooked group but sadly with a few exceptions this isn’t happening. The digital divide discusson also overlooks the crucial role of family in getting and keeping older people on line. Similarly although the British Society of Gerontolgy raised how the Government was rooting its approach on the basis that no one lived alone, generally there has been next to no focus on those who do and who have no family support

“There is an implicit assumption in much discussion about COVID-19 that people will have co-resident family members to look after them, to recognise that they are ill, to keep them hydrated, to help them if they are unable to get back to bed after going to the toilet, to try to encourage some nutrition or to call an ambulance. Co-resident family members can also advocate for hospitalisation or hospital care if needed” (British Society of Gerontology March 20)

There is another reason though beyond Covid coverage as to why the substitution of “granny” for older people matters. Granny – grandmother – continues to frame the issues around how we support older within a family narrative. Our health & care system is designed around the unspoken but completely baked in assumption that all older people have family to offer support. The Government have been quite clear that they expect family to do more and their sole focus on social care seems to be about the prevention of selling the “family home” to pay for care.

Where do these narratives leave people ageing without children? The one organisation formed to campaign for them was never able to get funding despite repeated efforts and had to close. There are no national resources or campaigns directed towards this specific group of older people. They are completely invisible in mainstream discussions on Covid and more worryingly in what social care looks like post Covid. With no organisation to lobby for them, people ageing without children are relying on those organisations and individuals involved in these discussions to remember they exist, undertand their issues and consider how their particular needs can be integrated into solutions.

It could easily be different of course. The large age charities could work together to highlight this issue, resources could be directed towards the development of groups for people ageing without children and funding found for further research into understanding both the experiences of people ageing without children and the impact on services and support. Some organisations have really stepped up; the National Care Forum have funded the development of a toolkit for organisations on being ‘AWOC Confident’ which should be our in the winter, the PRAMA Foundation took over the hosting of the AWwOC website and Independent Age have highlighted people ageing without children within their research on marginalised groups.

Not all older people are ‘granny’s’ and their value to society is not less because of it. They deserve not to be erased from Covid coverage because they do not have children or grandchildren to lobby for them. Older people without children matter because we all matter. Remember that next time you use granny when you really mean older people. 

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