“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.
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!
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
- 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.
Sue Lister who runs the York group was featured in the York Press http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/14489493.New_group_highlights_issues_surrounding_growing_older_without_children/?ref=mr&lp=20
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 https://gulbenkian.pt/uk-branch/our-work/transitions-in-later-life/
Latest AWOC Blogs
Older peoples families are their carers – pretending they are not is why people ageing without children get ignored https://awoc.org/2016/12/06/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 https://awoc.org/2016/11/02/5-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? https://awoc.org/2016/09/19/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/
Help if you are struggling with ageing without children at Christmas
Christmas and childlessness http://www.thefertilitypodcast.com/dove/
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 http://communitychristmas.org.uk/
Stand Alone festive guide for people estranged from their family http://standalone.org.uk/guides/festive-guide/
The Silver line will be open Christmas Day providing information, friendship and advice to older people 0800 4 70 80 90 https://www.thesilverline.org.uk/
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 https://www.facebook.com/groups/1476937045912974/
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
Older peoples families are their carers – pretending they are not is why people ageing without children get ignored
8% of carers are providing care to non family members (Measuring National Well-being Households and Families, 2012), a whacking 92% of care is provided by family, primarily either adult children caring for parents or older couples providing care to a spouse/partner.
And yet still documents routinely refer to “older people their families and carers” as if they are two distinct groups of people. They are not, they are really not and phrases like this hide the extent to which if an older person doesn’t have family to help, they are pretty stuck to say the least.
Next year as The Generation Strain report (IPPR 2014) points out
“as the babyboomer 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”
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 for example issues around dementia or carers. Perhaps when everyone is planning their conferences and policies on ageing for 2017 this can be front and centre; what are we going to do collectively as the family care gap grows?
We are here, talk to us, we want to help. We know there isn’t any money but we’re very creative! Who knows? The solutions we come up with may even help older people with families too.
There is something about having low expectations which means you are never disappointed. I didn’t expect much for social care in the Chancellor’s autumn’s statement and I was proved right. However it’s quite something when the chancellor managed to get below even my low expectations. I’ll be honest I expected a social care sop, perhaps an increase of 1% on the social care precept or the announcement of another enquiry or commission into social care to kick the issue into the long grass for a few more years. Even I didn’t expect absolutely nothing, not one single mention or acknowledgement, zilch nada zero.
I’ve held the view for some time that the Governments unwillingness to support social care is nothing to do with not understanding and everything to do with not agreeing. People have probably got tired of me positing this but I will post it again
- “A wholesale repairing of the social contract so that children see their parents giving wonderful care to grandparents – and recognise that in time that will be their responsibility too” Jeremy Hunt Sec State for Health
- “The ’Auntie’s room’ is a room for parents, or your grandparents. And they just assume that when you get a place for your parents, you will have a place for your parents – you will look after your parents. I think we can do with a bit more of that Asian attitude in Britain” Sajid Javid then Business Secretary
- “We’re not going to turn overnight into a society where everyone can live in large housing units, but all sorts of things suggest that more people will probably have a mum or dad living with them at some stage in the future” Alistair Burt then Care Minister
I firmly believe that ideologically the Government believes that care should be down to the family and the state’s role is to exist as an absolute last resort. If that ideological position is true, a bit part of shifting it is about tackling the belief that families aren’t doing enough already, and that some people simply don’t have family at all. I want to make it clear that AWOC doesn’t think families don’t do enough but I do believe the Government absolutely thinks that.
And so AWOC is faced with a dilemma. We are a tiny tiny organisation and we have to target what we do. For a long time I’ve been convinced that the way to change things for people AWOC is to ensure system change. If we change the thinking, planning and policy on ageing so that it recognises the massive demographic shifts around family, not just that there are people with no children but also people whose children live far from them, who become estranged from family and who come from much smaller family units with not just no children but fewer siblings and nephews and nieces. However, we don’t have the resources to embark on the level of campaigning required to shift what seems to be an ingrained ideological view
Instead, I believe AWOC has to focus on how people ageing without children can support each other because at the moment I can’t see that that Government consumed as it is by Brexit is going to do anything about social care at all. Local authorities are already progressing down the route of “what can you do for yourself, what can your family do for you? , what can your community do for you?”. With people AWOC often coming from smaller extended families as well as having no children or children able to help, it’s going to be up to us to organise ourselves. We need to organise our own communities both geographical and virtual, develop our own networks of support, find our own solutions and not look to a Government who cares very little about social care and doesn’t even acknowledge that older people without family even exist.
The development grant from the Big Lottery Fund is helping us write a plan for AWOCs future. We want to know what you think; tweet views with #awocfuture, email is at firstname.lastname@example.org, join our facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1476937045912974/, if you are in or near Leeds, London, Stockport or York join the local AWOC group https://awoc.org/local-awoc-groups-2/
We need to make our own future, our own later life, together we can, we can and we will.
- “I don’t expect/want my children to look after me”
“Great! What plans have you made so they don’t have to?”
Ive not yet met an older person who told me they expected their children to look after them but as we see below, the reality is when it comes to times of crisis, most older people are helped and supported by their adult children.
You may not expect or want your children to look after you but they are there and if there is nothing and no one else, the chances are they will step up. People ageing without children simply don’t have that safety net or the luxury of not making plans.
If you don’t want or expect your children to look after you, make a plan so they don’t have to.
- “most people’s children don’t look after them anyway”
Insisting that most older people in the UK are not helped, supported or cared for by their adult children seems to be a firmly held belief, not just by the public but the Government as well. Jeremy Hunt has repeatedly said that children should take on more responsibility for caring for elderly parents
“We need a wholesale repairing of the social contract so that children see their parents giving wonderful care to grandparents – and recognise that in time this will be their responsibility too”
and the Government’s entire social care policy for older people seems based around the idea that adult children are not doing enough to help and they must do more.
But what does the evidence say? Are older people not supported by their children as the government and many people in society claim? Below are some of the statistics around this issue
- The majority of the 6.5 million carers in the UK – 40% – are looking after either a parent or parent in law
- a quarter of people aged from 45 to 60 provide active day-to-day support to their mothers and fathers, essential to enable them to continue living independent lives
- “Most care for older people is not provided by the state or private agencies but by family members, at an estimated value of £55 billion annually. However, 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 IPPR 2014)
- More than 80% of disabled older people receiving informal care and living in private homes are being cared for either by their adult children or spouse or both of them together. The ‘oldest old’ are predominantly cared for by their children, whereas married older people predominantly receive spousal care
- Numbers of older people in care homes between 2001 – 2011 (most recent figures) has remained static at around 291,000 despite an increase of 11% of people over 65 from 8.3 million to 9.2 million
The facts show that adult children are not on the whole as people or the Government seem to think, routinely abandoning their parents to look after themselves or as the media often like to describe it “dumping them in a care home”. Caring for an elderly parent is hard, time consuming and exhausting and yet every day millions of people up and down the country are doing it.
- “you can use all the money you didn’t spend on having children on buying care”
Just like older people with children, older people without children encompass a wide variety of backgrounds, employment history and income. Not having children doesn’t mean that we have a massive disposable income in our later life. Some people will have spent many thousands of pounds on infertility treatments, others will have been carers for their own parents with all the impact that has on employment opportunities. Some people actively chose not to have children because they couldn’t afford it. Many people ageing without children are also single, supporting themselves entirely with no capacity to save.
Don’t assume we all have money because we really don’t
- “I’m sure your friends will help”
The assumption that people without children create a substitute or surrogate family of close friends who they will be able to turn to or rely on when they get old the same way older people with children often turn to them in moments of need or crisis is an enduring comfort blanket.
It’s OK the story goes, they may not have children or a partner or any siblings or nephews and nieces but they will have loads of friends who will do the same thing. So there’s no need to worry or think about the issue.
Its nice to think everyone has lots of friends but as the Campaign to End Loneliness has shown us, many people do not. Interestingly on forums for childless/childfree people, many talk about how their friendships have not survived friends having children as their lives change irrevocably. Even if we do have lots of friends, they tend to be of a similar age to ourselves and therefore ageing at a similar rate. The help and support groups of friends can offer in their 50s and 60s is going to be different to what they can do in their 80s. As people age, the role of their friends in providing care and support will change, and for the oldest old, the number of friends will decrease as people die
Friends can help but they cant be the whole answer
- “oh! I just assumed you didn’t want kids”
There is very little research on post fertile women, (and none at all on men) on why they didn’t have children but what does exist has identified that 10% of women made a positive choice not to have children but for the other 90% it was a combination of medical reasons and circumstance i.e. it just didn’t happen. If someone never wanted children and have reached later life without them, they have lived they wanted but for people who desperately wanted children and have reached later life without them, they need to come to terms that it will never ever happen and they have not lived the life they would have chosen. Never assume it was people’s choice and even if it was, choosing not to have children does not negate their right to worry about their old age and who will speak up for and support them.
“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”
Last week the Nuffield Trust and the Kings Fund published Home Truths which looked at the state of social care for older people. It highlighted yet again the parlous state of the social care sector saying
“The social care system in its current form is struggling to meet the needs of older people. Six consecutive years of cuts to local authority budgets have seen 26 per cent fewer people get help. No one has a full picture of what has happened to older people who are no longer entitled to publicly funded care: the human and financial costs to them and those who care for them are mounting”
For the report they interviewed third sector organisations, NHS staff and people from local authorities who are the ones at the sharp of trying to hold together an increasingly thin safety net of social care services.
One theme that emerged strongly from local authority interviewees was the need for people to take more personal responsibility but also for their families and communities to do the same
“‘Asset-based approaches’ and increasing individuals’ ‘social capital’ were frequently described as necessary solutions to the lack of capacity in social care. These were defined as building up local volunteering schemes, ‘encouraging neighbourliness’, community participation, ‘revitalising’ the VCS, more involvement from friends and family, and better self-management”
This was neatly encapsulated in this quote from a local authority officer
“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”
No one would dispute that older people should be encouraged and enabled to do all they can for themselves but it’s my experience in over 20 years of working with older people,that the vast majority only go near social services when they feel they have no other option. Most older people I’ve worked with carry on doing all they can for themselves to the point where it can become dangerous or destroy their quality of life.
But it’s the constant focus on the role of the family with no thought given to those older people who don’t have a family at all or may have one with whom they have limited contact that is incredibly worrying. It’s worth highlighting here that according to Age UK statistics, 12% of people over 65 say they never spend any time with their family. As there are currently 11.6 million people over 65, that’s 120,000 people who have no contact with their family. Add in the fact that 20% of the 23.6 million of people over 50 don’t have children and we are looking at a significant minority of older peope for whom for all sorts of reasons family isn’t an option
But ah I hear you say! They don’t just mean family, they mean friends too, look it’s in all the policy documents “friends and family”; however, according to the Age UK statistics only 35% of people over 65 spent time with friends most or every day in the last 2 weeks, and 12% never spent any time with their friends.
As ever, it’s not that AWOC disagrees with the need to empower and support older people to help themselves or that communities could and should do more to help people as they age. We believe families already do an incredible amount and deserve far more recognition for what they do. What we have a problem with is the continued ignoring of a demographic issue that is not going to go away. Solutions predicated on family and friends are not solutions for everyone and people who don’t fit into the traditional mould of family should not be overlooked. Bluntly people ageing without children have worked and paid their taxes too. It shouldn’t be too much to ask that they are properly considered in planning for ageing and not either completely ignored or put in the “too difficult to deal with” box.
“I’ll get by with a little help from my friends…..” the lack of a plan B policy for people ageing without children
Along with things that go together like love and marriage and a horse and carriage, the words “friends and family” are permanently linked together in policy documents on health and social care. Last week on twitter, the wonderful John’s Campaign were discussing issues around the importance of family in care settings with Andrea Sutcliffe from the CQC when I crashed in to make my usual point
AWOC wholeheartedly supports John’s Campaign to enable family carers of people with dementia to have access to hospital wards at all times. We support any campaign that extends the rights and recognition of family carers and we would never underplay the role that family carers. Indeed, we spend a lot of time pointing out just how much families do do to all the people who keep saying families just arent there to help older people anymore (see our blog here Most people’s children don’t look after them anyway
The issue of how older people without children and/or any other family are supported and advocated for in care settings and more generally is definitely near the top of the many wicked problems ageing without children will bring.
There is a definite assumption that people without children create, or will create, a substitute or surrogate family of close friends who they will be able to turn to or rely on when they get old the same way older people with children often turn to them in moments of need or crisis. To help me write this blog, I posted a question on the AWOC facebook group
“Would you want or expect friends to e.g. take on power of attorney or make sure that your care was properly provided? Do you think it would change the nature of your friendship? Do you even have friends close enough to ask? What do you think?”
Below are some of the responses
“I have a will and two LPAs in place. I have a very close friend who is the attorney for health and welfare, she is a little younger than me and I have thought about the age issue (I’m 65, she’s 58), so I also have an advanced directive lodged with and signed by my GP. My property and finance attorney is my goddaughter to whom I’m very close, she’s in her 30s. Each of these deputise for the other. It’s the best I could manage, I trust them both completely. I have no family at all, no siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews. It’s a big responsibility however for them and not something I asked lightly, it took a lot of soul searching”
“This is a huge issue for me. I do have close friends but, having their own families, lives and commitments I can’t expect them to take me on in this way so I’m kinda at a loss”
“I have nobody close enough to do it. The idea that everyone has available competent friends in this age of mobility seems to me as much of a myth as the idea that we all have family. And even people with strong social networks often comment as they get older that everyone is leaving the world and that there is nobody still here who really knows them anymore”
“The issue about friends is that they are generally in the similar age cohort as ourselves so if the time for assistance arises they may not be in great health or mobile etc themselves. So as much as we would want to help out our friends we may not be in a position to do so”
“The two friends I count as my closest friends are both my age, so no way of knowing if they’ll still be around or capable when it’s time to be my executor. (Or me doing it for them either.) Other friends aren’t really close enough friends for me to be comfortable asking them. No siblings or nieces/nephews in the UK”
“OnIv just put in place the new POA for my mother, on advice of a trusted solicitor. I Am thinking of putting my own in place as single and no children, but no one I feel I can ask in the extended family so I have asked close friends who I trust although that may change as we all age and maybe less able so I will have to keep assessing my own situation at a cost that’s if I am able”
Of course the AWOC facebook groups isn’t representative of all people AWOC but perhaps another way to look at it is this; how many older people who have children appoint their friends to act as e.g. power of attorney or executor of their will as opposed to their children? One of the reasons why some people can find AWOC so challenging as an issue is that it asks all of us, whether we have children or whether we dont, what our own expectations are of old age and who will support and care for us if we need it.
In “Our Voices” we point out the danger of using friends and family interchangeably
“Secondly, because of the widespread use of the phrase ‘friends and family’ when discussing support and care for older people, it is important to find out how much the reality for older people without children actually is a network of ‘friends and family’ involved in or interested in their care in the way that policy assumes it is. If the reality of family involvement is in the vast majority of cases a matter of a spouse or partner, and children, then that needs to be acknowledged. Equally, as people age, the role of their friends in providing care and support will change, and for the oldest old, the number of friends will decrease as people die”
Like the other assumptions made about people ageing without children, the important thing is to establish an evidence base. Researching to what extent older people without children do have wide friendship networks but also understanding when, and if those friends are able to step in to help both in times of crisis and when there is a need for prolonged support is crucial. Just as AWOC is often told we must not assume family support will be there, equally we must not assume friendship support is there either.