The impact of Covid-19 on people ageing without children: experiences of the AWOC York Group
“I think it brings it home to you about not having children when so many people are dependent on them at present…” respondent to AWOC York survey
Despite the many media stories of the impact of Covid-19 on older people, the experiences of the 1.5 million people over 65 in the UK who are ageing without children, and have no close family to rely upon have been invisible. News coverage is family-centric focusing on stories of separated grandparents unable to hug their grandchildren, the restrictions on visiting ageing relatives in care homes, difficulties faced by adult children in arranging support such as online shopping for parents or families enjoying coming together in Zoom and WhatsApp sessions.
At the same time, it is clear from the data already published from current national surveys about the impact of Covid-19 in the UK that pandemics do not affect all social groups and communities equally, and that the spread of the virus and the response to it has further magnified deep-rooted inequalities in relation to the health and care needs of the most vulnerable and often least visible.
In this context we undertook a small piece of unfunded qualitative research with members of the AWOC York peer support group to find out more about their personal experiences of Covid-19 and how they have coped during the pandemic.
We found that people ageing without children in York were acutely aware of how much their ability to cope rested on their own health and wellbeing remaining strong and the potential fragility of their support networks. People were keenly aware that for example, neighbours could become overburdened with helping or simply have to return to work and not be able to offer support, and if respondents became ill or experienced a crisis, life could suddenly feel very different.
Media stories about the impact of Covid-19 on care homes resonated particularly as people ageing without children are 25% more likely to go into care homes.
“It’s a real fear, I’m shocked by what’s happening in care homes and know I’d do anything to avoid having to go into one”
Most AWOC York members are online but adjusting to the challenges of replacing physical meetings with virtual contact has been a struggle for some and there are concerns for those ageing without children who remain digitally excluded and socially isolated.
Jenny Collieson, author of the report said
“As we move into the pandemic recovery phase and organisations are thinking about how we can use what we have learned during this crisis to develop new ways of care and support for better later life, we need to ensure that the voices and lived experience of the growing number of older people ageing without children are included.”
Sue Lister who has been running monthly meetings of the AWOC group in York since January 2016 said:
“Our weekly social gatherings online are not the same as face-to-face monthly meetings in central York – but they do keep us in touch with people who have no children or family support in these isolating times.”