Ageing Without Children


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What happens when the Carers are gone?

It is Carers Week, the time to highlight the work of the unpaid carers that prop up the health and social care system. Everywhere there are articles pointing out how much unpaid carers save the state and how much the system would collapse without them, which is 100% true. Without them services would implode under the weight of demand simply unable to cope with the sheer volume of people needing help.

Coincidentally, today the Guardian published an article based on a report from the Directors of Social Services saying that social care is on the brink of collapse There have been numerous news stories over the past few years arriving with increasing frequency and higher levels of alarm covering the problems facing social care; so far they have not made any appreciable difference in terms of any additional money on anything like the scale required being forth coming.

Here’s the thing; last year for the first time, the number of older people needing care outstripped the amount of family available to provide it. This “care gap” is only going to widen; 20% of people over 50 don’t have children, more single people are entering later life and 50% of all people over 75 live alone. At the moment the vast vast majority of unpaid care is supplied by family (92%) with the greatest % of that by partners and/or adult children. The older someone is, the more likely it is their carer is their adult child. Research shows that wider family networks such as siblings, nieces, nephews as well as friends do not substitute for a partner and/or child; the more care someone needs, the more likely those networks of wider family and friends are to fall away. Essentially, if someone needs help for a short period of time i.e. after hospital or only on an ad hoc basis e.g. the occasional lift to hospital, the wider network holds strong. However as soon as people start to need long term help and care or to need help and care multiple times a week, the network falls apart unable to cope. Bear in mind that nephews/nieces for example will have their own parents to think of while friends will often be in the same age bracket as the person needing help.

People ageing without children are more likely than those with family support to need paid social care. Ironically though they struggle to access it more as often they have no advocate to help them navigate the system.

It therefore cannot be overstated how much people ageing without children will suffer if social care continues to be destroyed. It is fantasy land nonsense based on an anachronistic view of society to expect as Government says repeatedly families to do more. By and large families already do an enormous amount most of which they wouldn’t even recognise as being vital, for people with no family at all or with family unable or unwilling to help it’s simply not an answer in any way shape or form. It is completely irresponsible to overlook older people without family support as is repeatedly the case in discussion on ageing.

As we celebrate carers week, remember that people ageing without children are 30% more likely to be carers for their own parents. Who will care for them when they need it is the biggest unaddressed question in social care and it cannot and must not go on being so


AWOC provides training to organisations to help them better understand and be equipped to help people ageing without children Contact us on


We’re still here!

Dear AWOC members and supporters,

Looking back at 2017, one of the most remarkable thing for us is that AWOC is still here. We started the year with high hopes of receiving a grant from the Big Lottery Accelerating Ideas programme, a process we had begun back in the summer of 2016.

However, much to our disappointment, we fell at the last hurdle with our proposal not being recommended to panel for funding. Having ploughed all of our time and meagre resources into the bid, the organisation was left in an extremely precarious position and for a time we thought we would have to close.

However, thanks to emergency grants from Independent Age and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation we were able to keep the organisation afloat and look at sustainability options.

PRAMA Care then came to our rescue with a grant to develop AWOC awareness in Poole Bournemouth and East Dorset. We are also looking at other funding sources and options. More on that in the New Year.

However, the people most responsible for keeping AWOC going are the people ageing without children themselves. When we feared we were going to close, it was knowing how much people ageing without children needed a voice and an organisation that understood and represented their particular issues that strengthened our resolve to carry on. We received many kind messages of support and donations from members which really gave us the heart to continue.

Even though it has been a difficult year, we have continued, as far as possible, to continue to campaign for and raise the profile of ageing without children.

Here are some highlights from a year which started as an annus horribilis and turned into something of an annus mirabilis:

  • We had an article in The Guardian at the beginning of the year:

  • We were interviewed by BBC Radio York;
  • Our Facebook group grew to over 1300 members and one of our key priorities for 2018 is to establish a new secure online forum for AWOC;
  • We spoke at two conferences on issues around planning for care needs;
  • We were quoted at length in Independent Age’s Doing Care Differently report
  • Sue Lister, who runs the AWOC group in York, organised a session on ageing without children as part of the York over 50s festival with Rachel Maskell MP, the Lord Mayor of York, local councillors, Dr Robin Hadley and AWOC all speaking. Sue, who was awarded an OBE this year, has also written a play on ageing without children which will be performed as part of International woman’s week in March;
  • The AWOC group in Leeds organised two seminars, one on legal issues with Blacks Solicitors and one on housing options with Care & Repair, Methodist Homes, and Leeds City Council Home share scheme;
  • In Brighton, there were talks on Financial Planning from McClure solicitors, Planning Health and Welfare LPAs from Compassion in Dying as well as social get-togethers;
  • There were also AWOC get togethers in Norwich, Oxford and Ireland.

Our plans for 2018 include:

  • A national conference
  • The production of a toolkit on how to create ageing without children awareness in organisations and communities;
  • Resources for people wanting to set up AWOC groups;
  • Development of a membership model; and
  • A new online secure platform for AWOC members.

We would like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful 2018. We look forward to seeing you all again in the New Year


Why Ageing without children is different

Guest blog by Joy Anderson, member of AWOC facebook group
Care and my own destiny was not something I thought about that much before the birth of AWOC although I had been acutely aware that not having children meant society and my family treated me differently. What I have learned from this group is that regardless of how we arrived at being childless, whether it was a life choice or an unfortunate set of circumstances, and regardless of sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion, we all have one thing in common that unites us and that is for many of us growing old without children or a partner can bring us face to face with our own vulnerability.
All this became apparent to me as I took on the role of primary carer for my mum who has been disabled since her mid 40s due to an unfortunate surgery where her sciatic nerve was partially removed leaving her with limited mobility. Whether this was negligence or not, the family could not bear to pursue it, but we have all been impacted upon by her disability and more so as she’s got older as her disability has greatly impacted on her general health.
4 years ago I decided to give up my business, my home, my friends, a relationship, my hobbies and my London life to move to a small town in the country to support her. She needed to stay in her bungalow as it was the most ideal living situation and I decided as the single, childless person in the family I was in reality the only one who was in a position to do so.
It was a difficult decision and the life I chose has not been an easy ride but one I will never regret because I feel I have given my mum the best life she could have had under the circumstances. We have had some stormy times and some amazing times. She started flying lessons this year through Aerobility who teach disabled people how to fly and this has been really exciting for both of us.
When I first moved in she didn’t like it and was pretty hostile at first. There was a lot of resistance and mum was in denial that she needed the support. She saw my presence as a threat to her freedom and it took a while for us to work out how to figure it out.
This is so often the case and a son or daughter is probably the only person who can quietly take control whilst letting the parent feel like they are still in control. I think one of the myths about care is it’s easy to go into denial if the person is sound of mind and can do all their personal care. The illusion is they can cope and don’t need help. Perhaps it can take a long time before the reality hits home that someone isn’t coping.
This is true of the person who needs care as well as the relatives. My mum can beat the computer at scrabble, she can read the Independent from front to back and she can still hold an intellectual conversation. If she was sitting in a chair talking to you, you wouldn’t realise she needed any care at all, and sadly, if she went into care she would probably die from lack of stimulation, claustrophobia and would ultimately lose the will to live. For someone who isn’t ready for a care home and yet cannot look after themselves, there seems to be little available for them and I think this is the gap that children invisibly fill in.
It’s complicated caring for your mum but I find it’s not one role; you have to wear many hats and take on many different kinds of responsibilities.Housekeeper, cook, cleaner, gardener, admin, liaise with doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, lifts to hospitals, dentists, doctors etc. Admin, manage household bills, repairs, paperwork, call centres, support with social life, friend and confidant and last of all be a daughter.
These are but a few tasks I take on as well as the regular day to day care. Most of this is invisible but if I wasn’t doing this kind of support, I know my mum would not cope on her own at home.
Another problem, rarely acknowledged, is the virtual and digital world. Online banking, shopping and paying bills are getting increasingly more inaccessible. Due to the number of steps you have to take for each transaction, it’s just too complicated and this has disempowered many elderly people. In years gone by people were able to do these things themselves but this generation have been caught between 2 worlds and suddenly what they could manage easily has all changed. This is particularly the case for my mum, and although she did learn to use a computer, getting through security on the phone and online just creates confusion and frustration and she gets lost in the process.
What is equally shocking is there has been no provision made, no thought as to the impact of banks closing and how this will impact on the elderly. This is another area where people rely heavily on their children and grandchildren. Even the queen with a support network better than most has to rely on Harry to help her with her mobile phone!
Going into care is not a solution either. Recently my mum went away for 2 weeks respite while I had a walk-in bath installed. Due to no fault of the home, she only had one bath in 2 weeks. There were no staff available to take her for a shower, plus the showers were out of action. Had I not put pressure on the home to give her a bath, it wouldn’t have happened. She was still luckier than most, she had several visits and days out with family members which was more than some of the residents had had in years. My sister facilitated a TV for her in her bedroom and I managed to get the home to get her a chair to elevate her legs to prevent her ankles from getting swollen. None of this would have happened had we not pushed for it, so the people that don’t have children to do this are likely to get forgotten about. Most of the residents had dementia which made her feel desperately lonely and sad. It also brought it home to her that this is how it would be if I wasn’t living with her and it made her feel anxious and vulnerable.
It is little wonder that carers without children are now getting anxious about who will look after them then their time comes? One in four people are childless and many of them have already spent the best part of their midlife caring for a parent. Some of the comments I read on the AWOC thread recently were people saying they were considering voluntary euthanasia rather than go into care because the fear of having no one to fight their corner was too depressing. This is a line of thinking now that is becoming more popular which begs me to ask does this group of childless people not deserve better? If you don’t have children does that mean you don’t matter, and is there a time coming when we will we be asked what age we wish to terminate our lives because there aren’t the resources to care for us? It might sound like something from ‘Brave New World’, but it’s a dialogue people are already having.
This has filled me with sadness. Young people and elderly people need each other. We should not be segregating our communities but instead should be brainstorming and lobbying the government to start supporting integrated alternative communities where people can be intrinsic in planning their own old age in a dignified and creative way. Surely if we create our own ‘think tank’ and brainstorm with imagination and vision we should be able to create some exciting solutions which will work for a whole range of people regardless of whether they have children or not. I see that as the beginning process.
There are of course no guarantees that having children will bring support in old age. Families can become estranged or separated for many reasons and the AWOC umbrella includes these groups as well.
As President Barack Obama recently said during his speech at the Obama Foundation in Delhi, first you have to find your voice, then share your stories so your voice gets louder and then when you have a vision of what could be, lobby the government and create pressure groups to bring about political change.
Thanks to Kirsty Woodard the AWOC has brought all these childless people across the globe together, here we are finding our voices and now this process has already begun.

Why we must all challenge the dangerous myth that families are too selfish to care for their parent

“Britain is too selfish to care for its elderly” scream the headlines in today’s Daily Mail. This follows hot on the heels of Care Minister Jacky Doyle Price’s  comments at the Conservative Party conference lecturing the country on how it should look to the example of black & minority ethnic communities on how to the care for their elderly relatives. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Jeremy Hunt first exhorted British families to be more like those in Asia back in 2013. Since then successive Government ministers have repeated the mantra that families must do more

“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 2015

“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 Business Secretary 2015

“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, Care Minister2015

“We need to start thinking as a society about how we deal with care of our own parents. One of the things that has struck me as I’ve been doing this role is that nobody ever questions the fact that we look after our children, that’s just obvious. Nobody ever says it is a caring responsibility, it’s just what you do. I think some of that logic and some of way we think about that, in terms of the sort of volume of numbers that we are seeing coming down the track, will have to impinge on the way we start thinking about how we look after our parents. In a way, it is a responsibility in terms of our life cycle that is similar.”  David Mowat Minister for Care January 2017

This narrative that families aren’t doing enough and that if everyone just “took responsibility”, the care crisis would be solved is a dangerous myth and must be stopped.

The reality is that 92% of all unpaid care in this country is provided by families and is worth approximately 55 billion to the State. There are 11.8 million people over 65 in the UK and of those 421,000 live in a residential or nursing home with a further 380,000 receiving care at home. The State really isn’t providing care to vast numbers of older people, its families who are providing care to vast numbers of older people. To receive care at home, one must pass the Fair Access to Care criteria which for most councils is limited to critical or substantial needs vis

Critical – when:

  • life is, or will be, threatened; and/or
  • significant health problems have developed or will develop; and/or
  • there is, or will be, little or no choice and control over vital aspects of the immediate environment; and/or
  • serious abuse or neglect has occurred or will occur; and/or
  • there is, or will be, an inability to carry out vital personal care or domestic routines; and/or
  • vital involvement in work, education or learning cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
  • vital social support systems and relationships cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
  • vital family and other social roles and responsibilities cannot or will not be undertaken

Substantial – when:

  • there is, or will be, only partial choice and control over the immediate environment; and/or
  • abuse or neglect has occurred or will occur; and/or
  • there is, or will be, an inability to carry out the majority of personal care or domestic routines; and/or
  • involvement in many aspects of work, education or learning cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
  • the majority of social support systems and relationships cannot or will not be sustained; and/or
  • the majority of family and other social roles and responsibilities cannot or will not be undertaken

To think that people who need that level of care can be supported by their family just popping round to see them a bit more would be laughable if it didn’t seem to be the case that Government genuinely believe it.

For people ageing without children though this is genuinely no laughing matter. As the Government resolutely continues to parrot the families must do more narrative alongside refusing to do anything about social care, people ageing without children remain invisible. As ever, it simply never occurs to Ministers that people may not have children because let’s be honest, when Government say older peoples’ families they mean older people’s children. To be fair, it’s not just a problem at national level. Locally although strategies on ageing may acknowledge that the low fertility rates mean fewer younger people which will impact on social care workforce, few if any join up the dots to consider the impact on individuals ageing without children.

At AWOC we are working on solutions albeit much slower than we would like due to lack of funding but it is vital we find some ways forward. In the absence of Government understanding or willingness to act, it really is up to us to find ways to manage this demographic shift. The alternative is the people ageing without children will be left dangerously unsupported by a Government who refuses to acknowledge they even exist.




Kindness Can – being kind can make all the difference to people ageing without children

There has been an interesting thread on our Facebook group this week based on people’s experiences of not being in the grandparents club. People talked of being at retirement parties, family get togethers, clubs they belonged too & even holidays with friends where they were treated as completely invisible because they couldn’t join in with the grandparent chat. The exclusion of non grandparents is something we’ve blogged about before

The feeling of being, and even more so treated, as invisible & of less importance than parents is a common experience for people ageing without children

In our research “Our Voices”, feelings of being invisible and of being judged came up repeatedly

“There are in our society still strong taboos associated with being an adult without children. People who have chosen not to be parents, in particular, face a lot of criticism, and the implication is that they ‘deserve’ anything that happens to them in later life, as they should have thought about that before. Even for those who wanted children but were unable to have any, there is a suggestion that they have no stake in the future, have no interest in what happens to society at large, and are ‘less finished, less emotionally complete, and less capable’” (Our Voices 2016)

Being old and being without children means being at the intersection of 2 parts of society that are routinely rendered invisible. The effects of ageism have been well documented e.g. YouGov poll of people aged between 65 and 93, almost two thirds (62 per cent) were concerned about being seen as a problem by society and 47 per cent complained of ageism. 48 per cent said they thought their generation was ‘ignored’, and more than a third (37 per cent) felt treated disrespectfully because of their age. Older people are routinely treated as an homogenous mass with no separated out views. Research has shown that older people are “considerably under-represented” on TV with over-55s accounting for just 8% of entertainment presenters and 12% of lead roles in drama. As people age, they are simply less visible in society.

Sadly the prejudice and judegment also faced by people without children remains strong. Often, its the very casual nature of such hurtful and judgemental comments that make them so hard to respond to. Jody Day from Gateway Women describes the common remarks people make without stopping to think as ‘bingos’. We reproduce some of them here:

  • ‘You should have thought about having children when you were gallivanting around for your career!’ (Not knowing about infertility, lack of partner, etc. and also describing any woman with a job as a ‘career woman’).
  • ‘If you’d really wanted children, you would have tried harder.’ (To someone who may have endured multiple failed IVF cycles, or has perhaps taken the decision not to be a parent because of a genetic condition that made being a parent unwise).
  • ‘I didn’t have children so that they could look after me when I’m old!’ (Though when challenged by being asked what plans they have in place to ensure their children don’t have to look after them, these plans never seem to exist)
  • ‘Well, what have you got to worry about? You’ve got loads of money that you’ve saved from not bringing up children!’ (Unaware of the cost of living crisis for the many who live alone and don’t get family tax breaks, let alone fertility treatment debt).
  • ‘You can all just live together when you’re old.’ (As if that’s what they’d like for themselves, not considering the needs of the individual, nor later life care needs).
  • ‘You can’t expect the state to support you now; you should have thought of that earlier!’ (Not considering that adults without children may have paid taxes their entire working lives to support the infrastructure that benefits families: education, health, roads, leisure, sports, and so on).

The narrative around men aging without children also contains its own bingos:

  • ‘Lucky escape mate!’ (Implying that being without children is an enviable state to most men, even though the poor health of men ageing without children shows this is far from being the case).
  • ‘Charlie Chaplin was fathering them into his 80s.’ (Implying that men can go on fathering children until well into old age, even though research shows that is definitely the exception rather than the norm).

The language & stereotypes used to describe people without children ageing or otherwise is often deeply unkind. At best we are seen as selfish hedonists who chose not to have children so we could have more holidays & a nice lie in at the weekend to truly horrible descriptions of selfish immature people who have no stake in society and even suggestions we should be excluded from voting or from being politicians as our lack of children makes us unable to understand “normal” people. It doesn’t get much more unkind than that

The practical effect of this unkindness, of this invisibility and judgement is policy, & planning on ageing that assumes all older people have children and services for older people that rely on them having someone which in the majority of cases is their child, to smooth the way & makes things work.

People ageing without children are up to a third more likely to be carers for their parents and know exactly how hard it is to make the system work which also means they have no illusions about what faces people with no one to speak up for them.

Being kind, thinking before we speak, putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, all of these make a big difference to groups who already feel marginalised & excluded. Show people from marginalised groups that you are listening & acknowledge their concerns.

Kindness can make a better society for us all; kindness can – can you?

AWOC receives no public funding or grants and relies entirely on donations. Donate to us here

Five ways can you help right now

Set up a standing order for at least £5 per month or £60 per year: Ageing Without Children – 23063062 – 20-21-80

Set up a reoccurring monthly PayPal payment of at least £5 per month or £60 per year

Make a one off donation via AWOC’s ‘Go Fund Me’ page ly/awoc-gofundme

Make a one off donation either via PayPal or bank transfer

Make a one off donation by cheque to ‘Ageing Without Children’ and post to Ageing without Children, NDTi, 1st Floor, 30-32 Westgate Buildings, Bath BA1 1EF

Guest blog – A letter to … my miscarried baby

Thirty-two years ago at 16 weeks gestation you died inside of me. It had taken me a long time to get pregnant and to my knowledge I have never been again. I hated my body for a long time. I felt useless, worthless and less than a woman. I wanted to run away from the world but mostly I wanted to run from my own hurting self. With care and love and encouragement, from many people, but most significantly from my own mother, I slowly began to realise that even if I was not to be a biological mother I did have other opportunities and my life was not valueless.

It was not until after her death five years ago that I realised that my mum, your nanna, never ever focused on her own loss – no babies for me, no grandbabies for her – but always on mine, always on me. A return to study followed by a career in higher education have provided me with the resources to explore in detail the complex relationship between mothers and others.  I have been privileged to have been able to spend so much (paid) time researching perinatal loss, infertility and in/voluntary childlessness; issues and experiences that I and many of those I have spoken to believe to be misunderstood and misrepresented. Whilst grieving for you and for the other babies I began to realise that I would never give birth to my mum told me that one day I would be grateful to you for what you had added to my life. Deep in distress I could not then see how this could happen. I do now. I am grateful not only for the memory of you but also for how reflecting on what you mean to me has influenced the person that I am and the relationships I have.

I write this letter to you during the first World Childless Week (11th-17th September 2017) but in many ways ‘childless’ does not feel like an appropriate label for me. In my work and personal life I am blessed by friendships with some wonderful younger people, and in some cases with their children also. And yet, on a daily basis, I feel not only the loss of you but an exclusion from a group to which I am always peripheral. I have had my knowledge of childcare and of children and young people denied (despite an earlier career as a nursery nurse and nearly three decades of teaching and learning with young adults), been told that I will never understand my own mother as truly as I would if I had been a mother myself (which feels like an insult to the precious relationship we had) and been lectured on the benefits of having no parental responsibilities (as if I am not able to work this out for myself). Additionally, all of my adult life I have been, and remain, a mere bystander in more conversations than I could ever count. So, I am constantly cautioned (if only fleetingly), by friends, acquaintances, strangers, and when reading the news or watching a drama or film that I am different. On the other hand people often assume that I am a mother, and possibly now at 58 a grandmother, without asking or see me as available and willing to care for others because they assume that as a woman I have all of the skills and inclination and more time and less responsibilities than those with day-to-day childcare responsibilities. Although I resent this expectation as much as other ‘feminine’ expectations of women, whether mother or not, I do in reality want to nurture others and I am grateful to those who accept such from me.

Overall then my status as mother/not mother and as motherly or not is complex and I vow to continue to challenge simplistic stereotypes and to advocate for an understanding of all women’s reproductive identities, experiences and (non)choices. This I do as your mother and in memory of my own wonderful mum. Both of you are with me always, in my head and in my heart.

Gayle Letherby

5 things we can do to help people ageing without children

Over the next 20/30 years there will be unprecedented numbers of people without children reaching oldest old age. Policy and planning focused on older people being supported by their children/grandchildren in later life will not meet this need and risks leaving individuals ageing without children dangerously unsupported. Research has shown that smaller families in general means that wider family networks cannot be depended on to “step up” in the absence of children and that wider unpaid care networks made up of wider kin and friends do not substitute for children as health declines. This means that there will be a greater reliance on formal care services at a time when they have never been under such intense pressure.

The response of individuals  and organisations to this is understandably, what can we do about it?

Below are 5 suggestions that people and organisations can do to help

  1. Individuals and organisations charged with planning and delivering services for older people must make a far greater effort to understand people ageing without children and the issues that face them. It is not possible to design services that work if you do not understand the people you are designing them for. People ageing without children must be included in all coproduction and planning on ageing as a matter of course. We are always happy to talk to organisations who want to understand more about the issues facing people ageing without children
  2. Organisations need to review their services from the perspective of an older people doing everything entirely without support from family. This includes everything from how people find out about what exists to how they get their washing things in the event of unplanned hospital admission to creating a lasting power of attorney when there is no family to searching for a care home. Only then can we see how much family support is required to make services work and where we need to change things so it works for those without. Services that work properly for people without family support will work far better for people who do have family too
  3. People ageing without children need to be supported to come together both on and off line where they come together to form peer support networks. People ageing without children want to help themselves and each other and this weeks World Childless Week is a prime example of how people without children from all over the world can support each other. However, brilliant though the internet and social media are for bringing people together, they are not the whole answer; we know people over 75 are considerably less likely to use the internet. Local organisations should consider setting up groups for people ageing without children in partnership with AWOC
  4. The gap around advocacy must be addressed. People ageing without children have been very clear on their fears of an old age without a child to act as their intermediary and advocate in their dealings with care services particularly if they become incapacitated mentally or physically
  5. Everyone both people ageing without children and those who do have family should be helped to plan for their later life. Planning for later life classes, workshops or help should be as easily and widely available to everyone.

We shouldn’t have services and systems that are so complex that they require “navigation” or so inflexible and unresponsive they need to be “battled” but the sad reality is that at the moment we do. People ageing without children are hugely disadvantaged by such a system. Although some of these things suggested above take money, a lot do not or require only a nominal amount. What is far important is a change of mindset; a shift away from an assumption that there is family or family who are able/willing to help and towards a position that says “would this still work if this person had no one?” If it doesn’t, then the service is wrong.