Ageing Without Children


People ageing without children are 25% more likely to go into a care home – but who is there to speak for them?

I didnt watch Disptaches last night. The programme an expose on abuse and poor practice in BUPA care homes was another in a very long line of documentaries highlighting the appalling treatment of older people in some care homes. This should no longer be news to anyone but regularly as clockwork every year or two, another one will come round, people will be shocked, hands will be wrung, something must be done people will say and then that’s it till the next

People ageing without children are 25% more likely to end up in a care home. 25% more likely to end up in a system where if you don’t have anyone to speak for you, someone who actually cares about you and not just for you, you’re likely to be at the bottom of the pile. Bluntly those most likely to be speaking for you when you are in a care home are your partner/spouse (but as most people in care homes are over 85 the reality is they may not be around anymore or in a position to advocate), or your children or grandchildren.

If you don’t have those, who is there for you? The only answer is advocacy but advocacy in this country is scandalously underfunded and over stretched. Projects have been struggling for years to get funding with schemes closing or merging all over the country. Local authorities already struggling with austerity have focused increasingly on funding advocacy which is required by law such as independent mental health advocacy (IMCA) or advocacy under the care act 2014. General everyday on going advocacy is harder and harder to fund. Ironically of course this is now the time when it is needed more than ever. 1 million people over 65 in the UK already don’t have children and by 2030 this will double to 2 million. We are not in any way ready to deal with this as planners, policy makers, providers or as a society.

I don’t want to finish my life in a care home but frankly with no family to help to support me, I know it’s very likely. I don’t want to spend the last years of my life miserable, afraid and ignored knowing that even if anyone did notice how I felt, no one would care.

With social care at last near the top of agenda and with finally some public understanding of what it means, now is the time to do something, because if not now then when?

The first step to find solutions for people ageing without children is to include us in mainstream thinking on ageing

“older people and their families”, “older people and their relatives”; in all the coverage of the so called dementia tax and the spotlight on social care, older people were entirely bracketed with their family or relatives. AWOC believes we all know what is meant when media coverage or policy reports talk about family; they mean spouses/partners, children, parents. When the newspapers talk of older people having to “sell the family home” what they mean is the home where they would have raised their children, that’s why it’s so emotive.

Numerous think pieces and blogs have been published about social care both before, during and after the election. All of them refer to older people and their families. Not a single one that we have found mentions even in passing older people without family. It remains an invisible issue as we pointed out in “Our Voices”

AWOC is often told that we need to come with solutions; don’t bring more problems we are told, bring solutions. We have offered solutions; in “Our Voices” published in 2016 we list the following

  • Ensure that central government planning on ageing takes into account that increasing numbers of people will get old without family support.
  • Require local authorities to identify how many people in their area are likely to age without children and incorporate this into their strategies on ageing.
  • Enable GPs, hospitals and social care services to identify people without family, to provide support or care at an early stage and to guarantee involvement of other services to ensure they are not left without support.
  • Invest in intergenerational programmes and activities so that people ageing
  • without children still have the possibility of engaging with other generations.
  • Offer advice and assistance to everyone over making plans for their later life that take into account what will happen if they do need care or lose capacity to make their own decisions.
  • Develop a national strategy for people ageing without children that brings together individual people and Ageing Without Children, along with national and local Government, the NHS, housing providers and key bodies from civil society.
  • Create social awareness around the issues of ageing without children.
  • Provide education and training to service providers who will be working directly with older people without children. It is vitally important that those who write policy, plan services and work directly with older people understand all of the issues associated with ageing without children.
  • Campaign for the National Census to collect childlessness data for men, as well as to record the reasons why both men and women are ageing without children.
  • Explore the feasibility of creating a national online hub and telephone service that would link all the currently available services (both government and independent) that are available to adults ageing without children.
  • Look into currently existing advocacy services for older people and see how they
  • might demonstrate best practice in creating a national network of advocates for people ageing without children.


However, it is not just AWOC’s job to do this. Everyone working in the age sector should be thinking about it and ensuring that people ageing without children are incorporated into all that they do.

We are told that AWOC has been very influential which is really good to hear but being honest it doesn’t seem to have translated into much change on the ground. Reports regularly refer to older people and their families and don’t acknowledge the existence of older people without family. It’s not covered on conference agendas, the data on people ageing without children remains difficult to find e.g. why when the role of family is acknowledged as crucial in hospital discharge for example, is it impossible to find the numbers of older people discharged who don’t have family?

AWOC can propose solutions but has zero resources to implement them and we have to rely on others to take them up.

If AWOC is unable to find funding it will close in September and we are thinking about our legacy. We hope that if we don’t survive, others will take up the banner but at the moment it feels that people ageing without children are still very much on the periphery. We hope that this will change; helping people ageing without children is an issue for all the age sector, not just AWOC.

When older people have no children who will help?

One of the many things that makes ageing without children so difficult for people to engage with is that bluntly, thinking about it is hugely uncomfortable. There are many wonderful campaigners – Beth Britton  Nicci  Gerrard and Julia Jones  of Johns Campaign , Gill Phillips to name only a few who have taken the poor experiences and treatment of their parents and used them to campaign to improve the experiences of all older people. As you read the stories of what happened to their parents and the things they had to do, it’s easy to empathise and think how you would feel if it were your parents going through the same thing. Its harder to start to think about, in detail, what happens to people with no one to fight for them

Last year my mother in law very sadly died of cancer at the age of only 64. What was thought to be just an isolated mini stroke turned out to be a side effect of stage 4 lung cancer which had already spread to her brain During the 4 months from diagnosis to her death 4 months later, I witnessed firsthand just how much my husband and his sister did to help

  • Going to the hospital when she was admitted via ambulance after having a mini stroke at the GPs surgery
  • Being with her when she was given her diagnosis (the hospital told her they wanted someone with her when she was told)
  • Liaising with the ward staff, social services and the red cross about her discharge
  • Talking through treatment options with her
  • Making her wishes known to the hospital when she collapsed again and they wanted to carry out a number of invasive tests (she’d made it clear no more tests)
  • Explaining to the ward staff that their mum didn’t know what a rabid response team was and therefore didn’t know if she’d been assessed by them
  • Feeding her as the cancer left her weak and unable to lift her arms
  • Going to get ward staff when the call bell went unanswered after 2/3 ring (they were completely over stretched)
  • Moving her up the bed 2/# times an hour as she slid down unable to prop herself up
  • Going home to get her washing things, books and favourite possessions
  • Bringing a phone charger
  • Notifying other relatives and friends of what had happened and keeping them updated
  • Standing firm when the hospital wanted to discharge her to a residential home to receive palliative care as she had said she didn’t want that
  • Liaising with ward staff over a place in a hospice
  • Helping her plan her funeral
  • Buying a tangle teaser as her hair became increasingly knotted with laying in bed all day
  • Just being there – every day even if only fo a few hours she knew she wasn’t alone and people cared

After reading all that, tell me, who will be there to do that for people ageing without children? All those things her children did for her, who will do them? It’s very difficult to think about people going through experiences like my mother in law with no one by their side but with already 1 million people over 65 who have never been parents and many others with family too far away or unable to help for other reasons, there are people going through it and there will be more as the demographic shift plays out.

We cannot have a 2 tier system where people with children to fight for them have a better experience than people who do not.  We all know social care is under huge pressure, that the third sector is struggling to fund services, that advocacy is woefully under resourced, that the Government’s answer to the challenge of caring for older people when they need it is “family must do more”. We have to find a way, all of us working in the age sector to answer the question of “who will do the things children do when there are no children?”






Loneliness – it’s not enough to be happy to chat, you have to be ready to listen too

The Jo Cox commission on loneliness is now looking at older people and last week released a report based on a survey carried out on Gransnet. It seems useful to reflect on loneliness through the prism of ageing without children

When we were carrying out the research for “Our Voices”, one of the strongest themes that came through was that of invisibility. People aging without children do not see themselves reflected in society, in the media or in reports on ageing. Despite 1 million people over 65 not having children, they are nowhere to be seen. Often when talking to organisations concerned with age we get the response “Oh! I hadn’t thought of that” followed by “you know my friend/neighbour/colleague doesn’t have children and now you mention it, yes what will they do when they are old? Hmmmm” If people ageing without children are invisible in organisations that are about ageing, it’s not really a surprise they are invisible everywhere else. Living in a society where you don’t see yourself is incredibly isolating and can lead to huge feelings of loneliness

In turn, this invisibility leads to a real sense of exclusion.

‘ I felt excluded because I wasn’t a mum, and now I feel excluded because I don’t have grandchildren.’

This sense of invisibility and exclusion is exacerbated for certain groups of people who are more likely to be ageing without children, such as people who are LGBT and people with disabilities. People from black and other minority cultures, especially those that are seen as having strong devotion to traditional family structures, are particularly invisible and their experiences marginalised.

Overcoming this sense of exclusion is absolutely crucial if we are to tackle loneliness in people ageing without children. People ageing without children can feel extremely lonely in a society that automatically assumes children (which is fair enough, most people do become parents) but has no ability to respond or often empathise with people who are not.

“Last weekend, my husband and I went house hunting. There are only the 2 of us but we are looking for a 3/4 bedroom house because I work from home, he often does too and because we’ve moved from Surrey to Somerset, people can’t just pop down to see us, they need to stay over. When we arrived at the first house, the estate agents showing us around quite naturally assumed that as a middle aged couple looking for a 3/4  bedroom house that we had children. That’s fine, that’s a perfectly reasonable assumption to make.

“This would make a wonderful family house” she began and I agreed that it would but we didn’t have children so that aspect of it didn’t really worry us.

Instantly I saw it, something that people without children see quite a bit, first the non plusedness that there are people who don’t have children and then the panic because clearly she had her spiel all planned and it revolved around telling us about the family friendly aspects of the properties we were seeing. She clearly couldnt think of what to say to people who didnt fit that expectation. I wanted to say that we were normal, that we were not weird or strange or even that 2 people is still a family but I didn’t. I just marked it down as one of those things and carried on

And so did she pointing all the family friendly features even though I’d already said once it wasn’t what we were interested in. I explained again we didn’t have children and were more concerned about location and space but it made no difference. On to the second house she did the same, telling me how her teenage children would “love something like this”. The concept that we had no children clearly was too difficult to deal with, without children to talk about as far as she was concerned we had no common ground, I was different I was “other”, I didnt fit into the accepted social norms”

Living in a society where you are different and where people generally don’t know how to react to that can engender feelings of terrible loneliness. Making friends and developing social networks is often based on shared experiences. For people ageing without children who don’t have the shared experience of children and grandchildren that many people have, it can often feel as if there is no common ground. This is emphasised all the more by the tactless, thoughtless and sometimes deliberately hurtful comments that are sadly very common for people who do not have children.

‘I was having lunch with a friend, and she told me that people who don’t have children can’t look after old people, as they don’t have any empathy.’

One of our focus participants described how they had been called “a selfish cow” in their building society for not having children while our face book group often has posts from people who have been left feeling hurt, sad or angry by thoughtless comments from work colleagues and even friends about their status of being without children.

Imagine then how hard it is to reach out when you are ageing without children and feeling lonely. Imagine going to one of the many clubs and groups that exist for older people only for all the questions to start with “do you have any children?” “no” “awww that’s a shame!” or to sit in a group as people show photos of grandchildren around and you sit there lemonlike as you can’t join in.

One of the reasons why AWOC has developed an online community on facebook and people have set up local groups is so individuals ageing without children can find each other and know they can have conversations that don’t start with or revolve around children or grandchildren.

However, although it’s great we’ve been able to do this, what would be better is for people ageing without children not to be made to feel so different and “other”. For there not to be assumptions about why they don’t have children bearing in mind that the best data we have at the moment shows that for 90% of people over 50 it was not a choice.

Being happy to chat is all very well, but if it’s not accompanied by empathetic listening and non judgement then for people ageing without children it won’t help.

Happy to chat? Definitely! just not about grandchildren because other topics are available





Ageing without Children – what we’ve learned in our first 3 years

It’s now 3 years since the first blog about ageing without children which was later picked up by The Guardian

In those 3 years we’ve learned a lot!

  1. People ageing without children includes more than just those who have never been parent through choice or through circumstance. It also encompasses
    • those whose children predeceased them
    • those estranged from their children
    • those whose children live far away
    • those whose children are unable to support them for another reason e.g. they have a long term disability or they are in prison

The key thing is that that people ageing without children have no adult child or children they can count on to offer them help and support in later life.

  1. Despite the mainstream media focusing almost 100% on being without children as a woman’s issue, there may well be more men than women ageing without children. The ONS does not keep statistics of men who are not fathers but European academics have estimated that in the UK 23% of men are not fathers in later life compared with 20% of women.
  2. Despite a widespread belief that families do little to help older people, 92% of informal carers are family members, usually a spouse/partner and/or adult children
  3. 1 million people over 65 in the UK have never been parents
  4. In 2017 for the first time there are older people who need family care than there is family to supply it

Despite both of the above, services and policy for older people are still based on the assumption that there is family

  1. WE could find no research on the experiences of people from black and minority communities who are ageing without children – and very little research on the experiences of people with disabilities, LGBT and other excluded communities
  2. Our 2015 survey identified that having no one to speak up for them was people ageing without children’s biggest fear
  3. People ageing without children are no more likely to be lonely in old age than people with children
  4. The main reason people approach AWOC is when they first become a carer for their own parents
  5. Ageing without children cuts across multiple issues – social exclusion, practical support, care services, advocacy, housing, legal issues and intergenerational contact. The only way to tackle these issues is collectively and strategically. We need a strategy for people ageing without children

If you have changed anything in your life or job as a result of knowing more about ageing without children, please do let us know in the comments



2017 – The year the family care gap begins

“As the baby-boomer generation ages, a growing ‘family care gap’ will develop as the number of older people in need of care outstrips the number of adult children able to provide it. This is expected to occur for the first time in 2017” The Generation Strain, Institute off Public Policy Research 2014

This year for the first time, older people need care and support than there is family to provide it. This is the beginning of the path that leads to 2030 by when there will be approximately 2 million people over 65 without adult children.

92% of informal care is supplied by family members, 92%. However much policy documents might say “older people their family and carers” the reality of the situation is that for older people their family ARE their carers and those without children, and even more those who are without children and a partner are hugely disadvantaged in a system that just assumes all older people have family.

Very few documents on ageing refer to people ageing without children or any family and if they do, it’s in passing, perhaps a line or two. There is no strategy on how to deal with the effect of hundreds of thousands of older people being without family. In fact far from there being a strategy to deal with older people without family, the direction of travel is to ask and expect more of family

“We ask individuals first of all what they can do for themselves, and then we turn to the family and say ‘What can they do’, then to the local community and say ‘What can you do’, then only after that do we think about what the council should do” Home Truths, Kings Fund/Nuffield Trust, 2016

Below is a list of care and support routinely supplied by family to older people

82% provide practical help such as preparing meals, doing laundry or shopping

76% keep an eye on the person they care for

68% keep them company

62% take the person they care for out

49% help the person they care for with financial matters

47% help the person they care for deal with care services and benefits

38% help with aspects of personal care

38% provide physical help

Source: Niblett P, Survey of Carers in Households 2009/10. The Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2010

How will this kind of care and support be replaced for older people without children  or other family?

We will repeat what we said last year; there really are no excuses for organisations working with older people whether state, third sector or private to continue the myth that families aren’t absolutely vital to providing support and care to older people, and that older people without family are at a massive disadvantage. We know that that there are going to be an awful lot more older people without family and this deserves just as much consideration as issues around dementia or carers.

We hope that this year will be the year when issues affecting people ageing without children such as the family care gap will start to feature in mainstream discussions on ageing, where reports on ageing won’t be published without people ageing without children being included, where policy and guidance on ageing will no longer say “older people their family and carers” but will say “older people, their family and carers, and those older people without family or carers”.

Bluntly it is hard enough as every carer of older person will tell you navigating he immensely complex health and social care system if you have someone to advocate for you, someone to make the endless phone calls, fill out the forms and provide all the help and care that thanks to austerity no longer exists from local authorities. There are already hundreds of thousands of people ageing without children trying to manage whose existence is barely acknowledged in thinking and planning on ageing, soon there will be hundreds of thousands more. Carrying on as if everyone bar the odd handful of older people has family is simply not an option anymore. The family care gap is now here; we must all tackle it together to find a way forward before older people without children become second class citizens in a system where only those with family can shout loud enough to get help.

Newsletter December 16

Big Lottery Fund Development Grant

In October we received our Big Lottery development grant and started work on consulting people ageing without children about how we can 1. Develop, roll out and support local AWOC networks and 2. Develop a support model for people ageing without children which provides the same support as family members normally do.

In November and December we held meetings in Brighton Cambridge, York, Leeds and London. We also put together an online survey so people who were unable to attend meetings could input their views and ideas too.


A full analysis is being done of all the feedback and discussions we had with people which we will feed into the proposal we will submit to the Big Lottery Fund in 2017.

In addition, we have also been looking how we will evaluate the work we do and issues around Governance to ensure we have a diverse and skilled Board to take us into the next phase of our development

The hope is that this proposal will enable the release of a larger grant to give AWOC a stable funding base for the first time so we will have the resources to do all the things we want to do to help people ageing without children.

Review of 2016

Although getting the development grant was a great way to finish the year, 2016 has seen a lot of other AWOC activity!

Our Voices

In May, we launched Our Voices, a report detailing the experiences, thoughts and ideas of people over 50 without children and highlights the key themes and issues that affect them. The report sets them in the context of 1 in 5 people over 50 having no children yet there being little understanding, discussion or consideration of how this may impact individuals, services for older people and the wider community even though an estimated 2 million people will be over 65 and without children by 2030

The report identifies 6 key themes affecting people ageing without children

  • Invisibility
  • Being judged
  • “who will tell my story?”
  • Being a carer is a trigger point
  • Practical support
  • Disconnect from other generations

And offers suggestions as to what individuals, services and the wider community can do to help tackle some of these challenges including

  • More support to help people ageing without children plan for their later life
  • Investment in advocacy and intergenerational schemes
  • Local policy and planning on ageing to include people ageing without children as a specific group
  • A national strategy to tackle the issues affecting people ageing without children.

Our Voices was launched on 16th May by Baroness Sally Greengross at a reception hosted by Frith Street Consulting. Featured speakers included Paul Burstow former Care services minister and now Professor of Health & Social care at City University, Jacq Applebee and Ming Ho both people ageing without children whose stories are in the report and Kirsty Woodard Founder of AWOC. The event was chaired by Colin Hann Executive Chair of the Beth Johnson Foundation who funded the report.


Kirsty and Ming were invited to speak on Woman’s Hour and appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire show

Sue Lister who runs the York group was featured in the York Press

AWOC Conference June 16


The focus of the 2016 AWOC conference was planning for a later life without children. There is still a default assumption that all older people in the UK have children who will be able to help them in later life whether that’s everyday practical help such as shopping, basic DIY, mowing the lawn, calling or visiting to check they are OK, helping them manage finances and everyday life “admin” or more high end hands on personal care. Services for older people still plan and operate on this basis; people ageing without children know they need a plan for their later life as they cannot rely on their children and in many cases have no wider family/do not expect help form wider family.

The conference covered a range of issues including

  • The need to think positively about later life and see it as an opportunity
  • Some of the facts around ageing in the UK and the link between being positive and greater quality of life
  • Different housing options available
  • Opportunities for volunteering
  • Legal issues

The speakers were Patrick Thomson Centre for Ageing Better, Julie Apps Age UK Birmingham, Jane Ashcroft Anchor Housing, Nick Williams MHA, Andrew Robertson McClure solicitors and Patrick Shine from the Shaftesbury Partnership. Maria Hughes from Birmingham LGBT helped facilitate breakout groups

There were also 2 break sessions to talk about some of the practical aspects of planning for later life where people thought about

  • Who they would be in later life
  • What they wanted to be doing
  • Where they would live
  • How they would afford the later life they wanted
  • Who would be part of their later life
  • How they would get help if the needed it

What we learned from the conference was

  • That for most participants this was the first time they’d had the opportunity to think seriously about the later life they wanted
  • Being with other people ageing without children make conversations much easier
  • Mainstream services for older people are often unaware of people ageing without children and do not know to accommodate them
  • We need to do more to encompass the diversity of experiences of people ageing without children especially people of colour, from other cultures and backgrounds, men and LGBT
  • It’s important not to base all solutions on people being able to pay for them. People ageing without children do not all have good incomes savings and pensions!
  • There is huge enthusiasm for co housing
  • Advocacy services will be nowhere near sufficient to meet the demand of people ageing without children

Presentations from the conference can be downloaded here

Transitions in Later Life (TILL)

People in mid-life are often encouraged to plan financially for their later years. However there’s little resource or knowledge on how to plan emotionally and psychologically for this time.

Transitions such as retirement, moving out of the family home or deterioration in health are often difficult. They can for example, lead to loneliness and isolation which impacts on mental and physical health.

Support to help older people deal with difficult transitions tends to be disjointed, patchy and is often only arranged in a crisis. There is a real need to shift from fire fighting to prevention, with a holistic, person-centred approach to this issue. One that starts before the problem begins to occur and which builds people’s resilience and therefore their ability to cope with difficult transitions.

AWOC working with the Beth Johnson Foundation were funded to run 2 pilot workshops by the Gulbenkian Foundation as one of a group of projects across the UK and Ireland tackling issues around planning for transitions in later life.

The workshops were held in Bexley in partnership with Age UK Bexley and in Bournemouth in partnership with PRAMA care. The workshops looked at what it means to live a positive old age, tackled myths around ageing, explored how mindfulness and CBT techniques can help develop a positive mindset for later life and some practical elements around planning for later life.

It is hoped that more workshops will be funded in the New Year

For more information about Transitions in later life see

Latest AWOC Blogs

Older peoples families are their carers – pretending they are not is why people ageing without children get ignored

5 things not to say to people ageing without children

“We ask individuals first of all what they can do for themselves, and then we turn to the family and say ‘What can they do’, then to the local community and say ‘What can you do’, then only after that do we think about what the council should do” – What about those people who don’t have family?

Help if you are struggling with ageing without children at Christmas

Christmas and childlessness

Community Christmas has details of events that are running across the UK on Christmas Day whether you are looking to help out as a volunteer or attend in your own right

Stand Alone festive guide for people estranged from their family

The Silver line will be open Christmas Day providing information, friendship and advice to older people 0800 4 70 80 90

For the 6th year running Sarah Millican will be running “join in” on twitter on Christmas Day for people who are alone or feeling lonely. If you are on Twitter simply search for the hash tag #joinin to participate

There will be people on the AWOC facebook group, if you’re not a member you can join it here


It has been a great year for AWOC and we have achieved an enormous amount on very little money. Enormous thanks must be extended to Kirsty who runs AWOC full time and until the Lottery grant came in, entirely unpaid. Thanks also to Dulce Sanches who keeps things organised behind the scenes, to the AWOC Board members Jody Day, Natalie Kontarsky and Janice Leeming for all the hard work and to Mervyn Eastman who helped get AWOC off the ground and who stood down from the Board this year. Special thanks in particular to Sue Lister, Ann Murray, Jean Basson, Emily Axel, Louise Barson and the Brighton steering group for the help and enthusiasm with local groups and to Ming Ho and Jacq Applebee for their courage in speaking publicly about ageing without children.

Thanks to everyone who has supported us in our campaign to get the issue of people ageing without children recognised and understood as part of policy and discussions on ageing

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful 2017