1 in 5 people over 50 have no children and by 2030 it is estimated that 2 million people will be over 65 without children. Ageing without children was set up to consider the impact of this on both individuals and wider society. Earlier this year we surveyed 400 people to find out their biggest concerns about ageing.
- The biggest fear (92 respondents) was having no one to speak up for them or act in their best interests when they could no longer do so for themselves
- 78 feared being lonely and losing their peer group
- 65 were worried they had no one to call on in emergency
- 50 were afraid they would be abused or neglected
- Other major issues were; help with practical tasks (36), being unable to afford care (24), end of life care (24), poor care from the NHS (20),
- In terms of services, co-housing was the most popular (84% in favour), followed by ‘networks of community volunteers’ (thought useful by 73%), and joint housing (55%). There was also support for the idea of surrogate grand-parenting (42% in favour) and shared living arrangements (36%).
- However, many other service options were also listed as important with access to information and advice, advocacy and care navigator services to coordinate and support people to access support all being key.
- Many people seemed not be aware of services that already existed highlighting a gap in awareness and marketing of services.
- 90% felt that the Government had not recognised the numbers of people ageing without children and felt they were unaware of the impact on health and social care, or regarded it as unimportant.
- The majority of respondents felt that wider society was unaware of the numbers of people ageing without children or did not see it as their problem to worry about.
- Two thirds of respondents had wanted children but been unable to have them for medical reasons or other life circumstances but one third had made a positive decision to be childfree.
The results of the survey often made for depressing reading. People expressed profound and deep seated concerns about their old age. Despite many campaigns and hard work by organisations in the age sector, it is quite disheartening to see how little progress seems to have been made to reduce people’s fear of ageing and ageism itself. It really is not OK that nearly 30% of people ageing without children think that without having anyone to speak for them, they will simply be ignored or pushed to the bottom of the pile. It is all the more worrying because the people expressing this concern most vociferously are people ageing without children who are caring or have cared for their own elderly parents. The quotes below are typical of the concerns people expressed in the survey
“Nobody to speak up for me when I cannot speak up for myself – especially where healthcare is concerned. My mother died recently, aged 93, and had she not had me she would not have got anywhere near the level of support from doctors, social workers, carers etc, as she did”
“I will have no-one to look out for me and my interests when I become frail, as I am currently doing for my father who has been diagnosed with dementia. The ‘system’ is not geared to doing this it assumes there are family members to do this”
“You hear terrible stories of abuse at care homes – often it is only exposed because the children or grandchildren become concerned and are able to prove that it’s happening”
“I have had to do a great deal for my Mother particularly over the last 10 years……It has made me think ahead and realise that when my time comes and if I get sick etc. when I am old, there will be no-one to do for me what I have done for her, I will be at the mercy of the system and the random decisions of people who, even if they do their best, cannot possibly care at the same level as a relative / loved one. In addition, if I can’t communicate well or have dementia, the people ‘caring’ for me won’t know anything about my likes and dislikes, the little things that might make so much of a difference in daily life”
The people saying these things had been through the health and social care systems with their own parents. They know the realities of fragmented services that don’t communicate with each other, over stretched staff and lack of resources and how much time has to be spent chasing around for things that should be happening but aren’t.
It goes without saying that adult children should not have to spend their time trying to coordinate services for their parents and be constantly pushing and badgering to ensure the care their parents are supposed to be receiving actually happens.
However for people who have no family to push and lobby on their behalf, the fear of being ignored, poorly treated or simply forgotten is acute. As the responder below says
“Who will do all the things I currently do for my ageing parents, from helping them overcome the terror of dementia, to buying their clothes to standing up for them when they are being ignored in hospital?”
Organisations working with older people need to recognise that people ageing without children are an increasingly large demographic and that policy, planning and services for older people will need to reflect this changing reality otherwise the fears of people ageing without children may well come true.
Kirsty Woodard Founder Ageing without Children