Looking to the future – Building an AWOC Confident world

“look to the future now, it’s only just begun”

It is not going to be hard to say goodbye to 2020 and all its awfulness. I don’t want to dwell on the pandemic and its effect on people ageing without children as I’ve written about it several times, but it really has shown up the invisibility of people ageing without children when ageing is discussed in the UK.

Rectifying that and the other challenges faced by people ageing without children will be my focus 2021. Luckily, in 2021 there will be practical help with this; one of the things I have been working on in 2020 is a toolkit for organisations on being “AWOC Confident” which is being funded by the National Care Forum. It is currently in the final phase and should be available in Spring 2021.

The toolkit identifies 3 principles that make an organization, a community or a society AWOC Confident and sets out how organisations, communities and communities can make practical changes to be more AWOC Confident

The first is that people ageing without children are understood. People age without children for a wide variety of reasons and it is important to understand why this is, the impact it has on an individual’s quality of life and to not make assumptions about how people have reached later life without having had children or without the support of close family. There needs to be awareness that some people ageing without children have faced stigma, prejudice and judgement which can make them wary of talking about their lives. We need to commission more research around people ageing without children to better understand how they experience the health and care systems, the coping strategies people have developed, the different paths to ageing without children and how we can reshape our thinking and planning to better accommodate this growing demographic.

The second is that people ageing without children are included. People ageing without children report feeling invisible and marginalised by society and this is backed up by evidence. the Centre for Ageing Better’s report “Dominant narratives on ageing – Identifying the current discourse within influential sectors and industries” published in November identified the most used words and phrases around ageing across a variety of sectors and sources; political, social media, the charity sector, tabloid and broadsheet news, and advertising. Their findings were that “Family” is the 4th most used word around ageing across all sectors; in social media and online news it is the 2nd most common. The authors pointed out that in online tabloid news stories

“older people are commonly referred to with their role within the family rather than as an individual, with older women (‘gran’, ‘grandmother’) often featuring in the role of the carer”

And that looking at the world of advertising and ageing compared to the charity sector

“Words and topics relating to family –such as grandparents, ‘kids’ and ‘grandkids’ – are 43.5x more prevalent in advertising compared to age related charities. The words ‘kids’ and ‘grandkids’ are 64x more prevalent in advertisements than in sources from the ageing charity sector. This indicates a tendency for advertisements to present older people as a relative to younger people. Descriptions of family situations feature in some of the advertisements, making it more relatable to the audience, but these scenes often rely on stereotypes to tell quick, familiar stories about family roles”

Ensuring that people ageing without children can see that organisations, communities and society actively recognise they exist and understand the extra pressures that can come from ageing without children is hugely important. It is espeically important to let people ageing without children feel they can talk openly about their concerns without feeling “shut down”; this enables people not only to feel included but also can help with practical conversations about how fears can be overcome and plans made.

Finally, people ageing without children need to be supported. In the absence of unpaid care from close family members, people ageing without children are more likely to rely on paid for care. It needs to be recognised that people ageing without children can need additional support to both access and use services, particularly at times when they are potentially more vulnerable than those with more immediate family (such as hospital stays, or transitions such as bereavement). Evidence shows that it is generally people’s adult children who find out about services, make initial enquiries and ‘shop around’, and deal with any problems or confusion that might arise. Overcoming the barriers that can prevent people ageing without children finding out about services and accessing services, maximising the benefit of having support and making comments or complaints if necessary are crucial.

If we can build on these 3 things, we can work towards a society that understands, includes and supports people ageing without children which will also provide a better society for all older people.

Merry Christmas to you all and a much improved 2021

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