Designing care services and systems that don’t rely on family 

The assumption that all older people have family is deeply embedded in our thinking, policy and delivery of care. Think of all the solutions to issues associated with ageing that start with “talk to older people and their families”. This is largely understandable; 92 per cent of unpaid care is carried out by family members; however there are already 1 million people over the age of 65 who have never been parents which will double to 2 million by 2030. Still more older people are estranged from their children, have been predeceased by them or have children in no position to support them for a variety of reasons. Add to this the growing number of older people who are single, widowed or divorced (the rate of divorce in people over 50 is rising faster than any other age group) and it is clear that an unprecedented demographic shift is taking place. More older people than ever before are living longer but are not and will not be in a position to rely on family support.

There is often an assumption that older people without children have developed good relationships with wider kin and have strong friendship networks that can step in and substitute for family. Unfortunately, the research to date shows that this only works when older people are healthy and need short term or one-off support. If or when people’s health deteriorates and care needs increase, these wider networks fall away just at the time they are needed most.

As a society we must plan care around the population we have now and will in the future, not one from the past. Exhortations for families to do more not only belie the huge amount families are doing providing care and support but exclude those without.

5 ways of doing things differently

  1. Individuals and organisations charged with planning and delivering services for older people must ensure they fully understand people ageing without children and the issues that face them.People ageing without children must be included in all coproduction and planning on ageing as a matter of course.
  2. Organisations should to review their services from the perspective of an older people doing everything entirely without support from family, including everything from how people find out about what exists to how they get their washing things in the event of unplanned hospital admission to creating a lasting power of attorney when there is no family to searching for a care home. Services that work properly for people without family support will work far better for people who do have family too
  3. People ageing without children need to be supported to come together both on and off line where they come together to form peer support networks. Local organisations should consider setting up groups for people ageing without children.
  4. The gap around advocacy must be addressed. People ageing without children have been very clear on their fears of an old age without a child to act as their intermediary and advocate in their dealings with care services particularly if they become incapacitated mentally or physically
  5. Everyone both people ageing without children and those who do have family should be helped to plan for their later life. Planning for later life classes, workshops or help should be as easily and widely available to everyone.


Half day or full day workshops to help managers, staff and volunteers understand the different reasons why people are ageing without children, why the numbers of growing, the main issues that affect them and your organisation can do to improve things for them.


Working with you to

  • ensure publicity materials use inclusive images and language
  • review policies and processes to ensure they are ageing without children friendly
  • analyse internal data to identify people ageing without children
  • developing protocols for staff and volunteers working with people ageing without children
  • connect people ageing without children with each other

For more information email or call 07919 335680

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