Why are people ageing without children still invisible in discussions on ageing?

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the speech by Jeremy hunt to the LGA. In it he says “Attitudes need to change too, so that it becomes as normal to talk about elderly care with your boss as about childcare. Family planning must be as much about care for older generations as planning for younger ones. 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”

The minister has access to the same data I do, the same data that says 1 in 5 women over 50 will not be parents. There are 23.9 million people over 50 in the UK, so that’s over 2 million people who will never have had children. Even if the statistics are skewed by women at the younger end of the scale not becoming mothers, we know that 11% of women born in the 1940s did not have children. Add in the fact that we don’t know that statistics for men because we don’t keep them bu estimates by academics put the numbers of men not being parents at a slightly higher % than women and that there are also many people who are estranged from their children or their children live far away and we are talking about an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of people already, and will affect more people in the future.

And yet it’s as if we don’t exist. It’s hard to explain how it feels when an issue that you know from both personal and professional experience is affecting so many people is totally ignored. If, as the minister is saying above, care is the responsibility of children, what are those of us without them meant to do exactly? And no as I’ve said many times AWOC does not agree that care is or should be the responsibilty of children to provide care, it’s the State that assumes it as the default position.

Ah but people say, he doesn’t say “children” he says “friends and family” so he’s not excluding people without children. Well I have to be honest, I’m starting to regard “friends and family” in policy documents and discussions on ageing as I do the way “and care” is tagged on the end of “health”. Generally policy discussions about “health and care” mean 95% health and a token few words about social care stuck on the end to show inclusivity. In the same way, I believe that when discussions about ageing talk of “friends and family” providing care and support, they really mean partner/spouse and/or children. They don’t mean siblings/cousins/nieces/nephews/friends. The vast majority of support and care for older people is provided by people’s spouse/partner and/or children and to pretend it isn’t is disingenuous.

It has been interesting seeing the reactions from people I’ve spoken to in the age sector about the issue of people ageing without children. Broadly they fall into two categories. The first is “how did we miss this??” genuine shock at the numbers followed by “this is going to be a huge issue, we must do something”. The second one is “people ageing without children experience old age in the same way as people with children so it’s not an issue that needs looking at”.

Whenever I hear the second response I remind myself how long it took for Carers issues to get proper recognition and even longer for there to be any real commitment on behalf of government to do something about them. People Ageing without Children do experience old age in a different way. As our recent survey  http://awoc.org/survey-findings/showed, it’s not the hands on care that people worry about so much as there being no one to speak up for them, no one on their side to make sure that when they’re old and vulnerable, that someone who really cares is batting for them.

But I won’t deny it’s hard.

Age UK recent updated is statistics on the ageing population. There is no mention at all in amongst the reams of useful information about the numbers of people Ageing without Children. Age UK is the biggest charity for older people in the UK and yet people ageing without children seem to not even be on their radar. The new minister for care is going to produce a new Carers Strategy which is great, and will be even better if it’s supported with actual financial resources, but it’s difficult not to think “where’s the strategy for all the people ageing without children?” I see conference after conference on issues about ageing with no one on the platform speaking about it. Why do discussions on ageing exclude this large proportion of the ageing population?

AWOC is of course trying to change this and although we have no money, no office base and only me working full time and unpaid, it does feel that we have made real progress. The emails we get from people ageing without children saying they don’t feel alone anymore and the comments on the face book group saying how people feel they don’t have to pretend anymore that they worry about it keep me going. I’m very proud of the conference, the survey and that we will soon have AWOC groups in Sheffield and Leeds followed hopefully by York and London. I keep telling myself we will get there and not to be impatient. I’m only human though and sometimes it feels the world changes incredibly slowly!


AWOC – running on empty

Apologies but I need to have a bit of a vent!

It’s been a year since I started to seriously work on Ageing without Children http://www.awoc.org and 2 months since I started to work on it on a practically full time unpaid basis. It’s a very long time since I’ve felt as passionately about something as I do about AWOC. The reaction from people ageing without children themselves: that feeling of “you as well? It’s not just me? I’m not alone anymore”, the fears they have expressed, the enthusiasm with which they have shared their thoughts, ideas and time and their belief in what we are trying to do to make society a better place for all older people is inspiring and uplifting. However, AWOC has no money to do all the things we want, no need, to do.

I’ve spent 20 years working in the voluntary sector and I thought I knew about doing things on a shoe string but when you don’t even have a string, it’s hard! AWOC has no funding at all. Not a penny. The only money we get is from people mostly from within our community who have donated to our go fund me page.

Fortunately we do live in an age of fantastic technology and I can do a lot of things on line with email, face book and twitter, however I can’t do everything that way.

Some people don’t do face book or social media of any kind. They would like to talk to other people in their position but only want to do so face to face. Some older people don’t do email, they want copies of reports or newsletters – how do I print off copies of reports when I have only a small black & white printer and I know the quality will be poor but I can’t pay for the reports to be printed? Even if I could, I have no money for postage or to buy the stationery I need to send the reports anyway.

People want to send me things but I don’t have an office base only a home address which I’d prefer for obvious reasons not to give out. I’d like people ageing without children and other interested organisations to be able to call me if they wanted to but I have no capacity to answer the phone and deal with all the emails, meetings, media requests and funding bids I need to do as well. I know people would give their time to man the phones but I don’t have a phone they can use because I have no office and work from home.

I know the answer to this is to get some funding; there are lot of grant pots out there. However, I’m not a fundraiser, and don’t know how to have those initial conversations with funders, you know the ones that can strike you out of the running before you’ve even started because you said the wrong thing.  I know the most sensible thing to do would be to employ someone to do it for me, someone who knows what they’re doing but of course I don’t have any money…..

It is immensely frustrating to have an identified an issue that everyone agrees has gone unrecognised and needs work urgently only to be unable to do the things I know need doing because we don’t have the money to do it.

If you would like to donate to AWOC, our funding page is here http://www.gofundme.com/tagnm8

Ageing Without Children Conference

The first Ageing Without Children conference was held in January 2015. AWOC conference report

100 people most of whom had direct experience of ageing without children attended to hear presentations from

Kirsty Woodard Co founder AWOC

Jody Day Gateway Women

Robin Hadly PhD candidate at Keele University HADLEY AWOC 22 January 2015

David Mitchell/Vito Ward Ambassadors for Opening Doors

Claire McNeil IPPR

Trish Hafford-Letchfield & Nicky Turner Middlesex University Going solo Trish Hafford Letchfield Middx Uni PRESENTATION

and to discuss issues affecting people Ageing without children.

Storified tweets from the day can be found here https://storify.com/pailondon/ageing-without-children

Ageing without children has a facebook group here https://www.facebook.com/groups/1476937045912974/

If you would like to be added to our amiling list email ageingwithoutchildren@gmail.com

2014 was a good year for AWOC, 2015 will be better!

I think it’s fair to say that when the first blog about ageing without children was published back in March, no one thought we’d come so far so quickly! The fact we have just shows how much ageing without children has struck a chord with people.

2014 has been a really exciting year. We’ve been featured twice in The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/social-life-blog/2014/apr/25/ageing-without-children-family-care and http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/12/ageing-without-children (the second article has pretty robust below the line discussion), been on Women’s Hour http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p025vnt4 and the Wireless (Age UK’s radio station) https://www.dropbox.com/s/8nduqfjpr09c2bh/Agenda%20TX101214%20Part%204%20%281%29.mp3?dl=0,
created the AWOC website http://www.awoc.org, twitter feed and facebook group and of course organised the very first mainstream Ageing without Children conference on 26th January 2015 which is very nearly sold out. In addition, BBC Breakfast will be filming Jody Day and myself on 5th January as part of a series on ageing.
The question now for us of course is, what next? The Beth Johnson Foundation have kindly agreed to host AWOC on an interim basis while we work out our future plans. As yet we are not a formal organisation and we have no income; everything relies on work carried out by myself, Jody, Mervyn and Robin on a voluntary basis.
The International Longevity Centre have expressed a wish to work with us on one of our 4 aims by helping to research more about the demographics of people ageing without children. We also know from feedback we’ve had from people ageing without children that they would like more space to talk about solutions and how to make plans for the future. We’ve heard from organisations who’d like to know more about Ageing without children and what they could do to help. In addition, we want to get policy makers and politicians to think about people ageing without children when they discuss the ageing population and not make assumptions about family support and what help people get.

All of this will take some time and will need money: working on getting some funding is definitely a priority for 2015! The Conference will form a big part of our future plans as we ask people ageing without children and organisations working with older people what should we all be doing to prepare for a society where more people will enter later life without children. We’ll be asking for your views in other ways if you’re not able to make the Conference so watch this space!

To everyone who has contacted us to share their thoughts and feelings thank you! It is a personal issue for me and others involved in AWOC, and the kind words and deeds of others has really helped.
Enormous thanks go particularly to my AWOC cofounders Mervyn Eastman, Robin Hadley and Jody Day without whom many of the things we’ve achieved would simply not have been possible. Special thanks also to Beth Johnson Foundation and Positive Ageing in London for all their support.

We have achieved so much in such a short space of time with very little resources; I’m sure 2015 can only bring more good things and ensure that the issue of people Ageing Without Children remains in the forefront of discussions about ageing and the kind of society we want to be.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year
Co Founder AWOC

Oh no they can’t take that away from me…..

Like most people in job interviews, I’ve been asked “what am I most proud of?” or “what is my greatest achievement?” well as you’re reading this blog I assume you’re interested so I’ll tell you; it was my involvement in a court case when I worked at what was Age Concern Richmond upon Thames. I worked there running an advice & advocacy service and one day was visited by a very angry man who had come to get advice about his mother. His mother had been sectioned into hospital under Section 3 of the 1983 Mental Health Act (amended in 2007). The hospital had decided she was now fit for discharge and social service had said she needed residential care and as she was a homeowner, she would have to pay for it. Her son didn’t want her to go into residential care or to have the house sold, the way he saw it, once the house was sold his mother could never come home again. For me though, there was another very clear issue; my very first job had been as an advocate with Mind who gave me brilliant training on the Mental Health Act and the various sections therein. I knew that anyone under a section 3 was entitled to aftercare under section 117- and for that aftercare to be free. I challenged the care manager who referred it to their manager who consulted the legal dept – who then told me politely to go away. I consulted with the late much missed Pauline Thompson from Age Concern England who supported me entirely and got me in touch with the Public Law Project. The PLP took on the case and the result was R v LB Richmond ex parte Watson and in 1999 it was confirmed that people entitled to care under section 117 could not be charged. The decision affected hundreds possibly thousands of mostly older people who previously had been charged for care. Afterwards the manager of the social work team met me for lunch and told me that they all knew I was right and was glad we had taken the council to court. We had the power to challenge that they did not.

What does this have to do with anything? Well one of the things about ageing without children is how closely the personal and the political are bound up. People have suggested to me that AWOC is really a vehicle for me to deal with my own childlessness and that really there is no role for the state here. I beg to differ very strongly.

As an advice and advocacy worker I spend every day dealing with people on a one to one basis and the repetition of the problems was depressing. Houses left unrepaired because landlords wouldn’t take responsibility, benefit claims delayed or refused due to errors by the pensions service, assessments that resulted in no services, services that were of poor quality, people being discharged on Friday afternoons because the hospital wanted the beds. In the end I came to the realisation that the problem was that the services, policies and the practice surrounding them was wrong. It didn’t matter what I did, I could only help one person at a time, I couldn’t help everyone. The only way to help everyone was to change the policy, change the practise.

So it is with AWOC. No the state can’t take the sadness of being childless away from me or help me come to terms with being childless, that’s something only I can do and largely have done thanks to the support of other childless people. But what the state absolutely must do is recognise that for people like me, people ageing without children, their policy, practise and planning on ageing is inadequate failing to take into account the needs of people without family and ignoring the huge demographic shift which means in 15 years time there will be over 2 million of us over 65 without children.

If we plan for this now, there is a huge opportunity to improve services for older people and to develop new products and a bigger marketplace; if we don’t, if you thought health and social care was under pressure now, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Founding a new organisation – just not the one I thought

Back at the beginning of 2014, I was looking for something to do in addition to my consultancy work. Although I love consulting as it’s genuinely interesting and challenging, the downside of it can be that you don’t get to see things through. I wanted to do something where I could see the more direct impact of my work and in early 2014, with the Unltd Care Cohort awards I thought I’d found it. In January 2014, Unltd put out a call for projects that would tackle isolation & loneliness in older people. I pitched manAGEing through sport, http://manageingthroughsport.co.uk/ a social enterprise that would work with lonely older men by getting them together in groups to watch sport. I was successful and set about talking to people and going through the processes necessary to set up a new organisation. This I thought was going to be my new passion.

But it didn’t turn out like that….

2 months later in March I published this blog https://consultantinthecafe.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/1-in-4-people-born-in-the-70s-will-not-have-children-not-that-youd-know-it-from-discussions-on-ageing/
And everything changed.

The blog was picked up by The Guardian and published in April. At the same time I began to talk to colleagues in the ageing field about the issue of ageing without children, all of whom said it was an issue they themselves had not really considered and they’d never seen it raised anywhere in discussions on the future of ageing. I also got in contact with Jody Day from Gateway Women http://gateway-women.com/ – she was immensely supportive and said it was the main fear raised by many of her members: what will happen when I get old if I have no children? I also spoke to two other key people: Mervyn Eastman Chair of Positive Ageing in London and Robin Hadley from Keele University studying childless men

The topic gained momentum with further blogs, a slot on Women’s Hour and then a real breakthrough when Positive Ageing in London http://pailondon.org.uk agreed to host a conference on ageing without children in January 2015.

Mervyn, Robin, Jody and I decided that to progress the work we needed a dedicated organisation and AWOC was born in September this year http://www.awoc.org . As well as the website we have a twitter feed @AWOCUK and a facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1476937045912974/ The Beth Johnson Foundation have agreed to host AWOC while we work out our plans going forward.

For me this has been and remains a very personal subject. Talking and writing about ageing without children brings out many feelings; sorrow at my own lack of children (I regard myself as childless as I wanted children but can’t have them as opposed to childfree, making a positive choice not to have children), anger that people ageing without children are invisible in discussions about ageing (though I think this is changing thanks to AWOC), fear of what will happen in the future, determination to make a change and pride in what has been accomplished so far with people like Jody, Mervyn and Robin and other supporters who believe in what we’re doing.

So, as you probably gather from reading this, I have found my passion though it wasn’t expected or planned!

As for manAGEing through sport, despite still believing strongly in the idea, I know that I don’t have the time to make it the success it needs to be. I’m in discussions with http://www.cravencvs.org.uk/ who hope to take it on themselves.

January 2015 brings the first AWOC conference and a slot on BBC Breakfast! Ideally I would love to run AWOC full time but to do that we need funding (working on it!). In the meantime, I’ll keep doing everything I can to raise awareness of people ageing without children.

Merry Christmas everyone and a very Happy New Year

Ageism and ageing without children

Since raising the topic of ageing without children in this blog in April, things have moved on a lot. With the brilliant support of Mervyn Eastman (@mervchangent), Jody Day @gateway women and Robin Hadley @RobinHadley1, Ageing without children has gone from being some angry thoughts in my head to a high profile discussion topic even featuring on women’s hour. We now have an event planned on January 26th in London to look at some of the broader issues, some aims and objectives set out here http://www.barkerandwoodardconsulting.co.uk/23.html and are in the process of looking for partners and funding to carry out more research with older people to help identify some solutions.

What has been interesting for me is the feelings it has stirred up both in myself and in other people. For me it cannot help but be an emotional topic; as someone who has spent 20 years working in the field of ageing and seeing the appalling ageism and poor care services in this country, the fact that I will most likely be left to face that alone, or that my husband will be facing that alone, is very frightening. I AM afraid of being old, frail and lonely with no children around to help or care because I’ve seen what it’s like for older people with no one to fight their corner and frankly, it ain’t good! However, saying you’re afraid of this happening to you seems to be taboo. The default responses of “I didn’t have children so they could look after me/children are no guarantee of support” seem almost designed to stop people like me from expressing our fears. Since the segment on Women’s Hour I have had a number of emails from older people ageing without children saying thing the same thing; that people don’t want to hear them say that they are afraid.

Of course having children is no guarantee of support or help in later life; that really should go without saying. There are of course no guarantees in life. However statistics tell us that the vast majority of older people with children do get help and support from them, frankly the health and social care system would collapse if they didn’t, so no there are no guarantees your children will be around to support you when you age but it’s a very high probability they will.

I think though there are wider issues at play here. Having spent 20 years working with older people, I have no illusions about how ageist our entire society still is. It just doesn’t consider older people as individuals or see them as important equal members of society. Most people if they stop and think about it, know that too, and so they push the fact of their own ageing to the back of their mind. Despite progress we have a very long way to go to eradicate ageism.

Although we are all glad we’re living longer, generally people don’t actually want to think about being old. It’s why, in my view attempts to get people to save for their retirement or discuss what might happen if they need residential care, are such an uphill struggle. People don’t want to think of themselves at 70 or 80; most people simply can’t, or don’t want to, imagine it.

Ageing is frightening to the majority of people and they don’t want to think about it. Ageing without children shines a light on aspects of ageing that people really don’t want to think about. It is uncomfortable but with 20-25% of people growing old without children, it must be done.