Ageing Without Children


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


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.


We can and we will – because the Government isn’t going to do anything about social care

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, join our facebook group, if you are in or near Leeds, London, Stockport  or York join the local AWOC group

We need to make our own future, our own later life, together we can, we can and we will.