Remember the case of Gloria Foster who starved to death last year??

This was the appalling incident where Gloria Foster of Banstead in Surrey starved to death after being left without medication, food or water for 9 days after the UK border agency raided the care agency employed to provide home care and shut it down. Maybe if you work like I do in health and social care you do. If you’re a member of the general public I’d be amazed if you did. It was covered by The Guardian, a bit in the Daily Mail and Telegraph and a small story on the BBC. Certainly not the front page tabloid headlines that would have occurred had a child been left to starve to death in similar circumstances.

Today yet another in a very long line of reports has been published pointing out that the Government has no idea of the true impact that social care cuts are having on vulnerable older people. The warning about cuts to social care and the subsequent impact on the lives of older people, their carers, families and other services have become like a broken record of late. It has been said over and over and over again and yet absolutely nothing changes.

On Monday I was at the Redefining Ageing conference put on by Age UK London. There was a real sense of anger and frustration at the lack of action about the problems facing older people. Mary Sinfield chair of the Older Peoples References Group for the New Dynamics of Ageing said she had counted over 50 reports highlighting again and again the inadequacy of care and services, each with long lists of recommendations, most of which had never been implemented. She also made the following stark point to the people in the room “no one is going to fight your battles for you. You have to get out there yourself and do it”

There is a lot of rhetoric in the media about how older people (by which they really mean the so called baby boomer generation) have stolen the country’s wealth, pulled up the ladder behind them and given a few years, will be costing the NHS and social care a fortune. An ageing population is constantly described as a negative thing; a burden, a challenge, a problem.

My personal view is that it is very hard to find issues around which older people coalesce particularly while the powers that be use 50 as the benchmark for when “later life” begins. The idea that you can take people of 50, of 70 and of 90 and expect them all to have the same views, issues and aspirations about services because they’ve been plonked in a box marked “later life” to me is laughable. However, I do believe ageism is the one issue older people can come together around because its ageism that underpins a lot of attitudes, policy and practice in this country. To be old generally is to be invisible; to not matter; to be seen as unimportant and past it.

So long as older people are still seen, if they are seen at all, as a burden or a problem to society rather than just individual people then they will remain without power. There will be more reports, more deaths and nothing will change.

It’s likely 1 in 4 people born in the 70s will not have children – not that you’d know it from discussions on ageing

In this country, care for older people rests mostly on the backs of family carers. 70% of carers are supporting someone aged over 65. Half of these will live with the person and the majority are of working age, mostly in their 50s suggesting that they are the children of the people they are caring for. They are a hugely under appreciated over exploited resource.

I think the way that family carers are treated are appalling; their efforts taken for granted, the expectation that they will undertake any and all tasks from giving injections to changing incontinence pads all without the help and training given to paid carers, and that they will do all this for a paltry amount of money £59.75 a week IF they even qualify for it.

Frankly without them the health and social care system would collapse completely – but here’s the thing. 1 in 5 women born in the 1960s don’t have any children and ONS statistics predicts this will rise to 1 in 4 for women like myself born in the 1970s (I did try to look for statistics for people as opposed to women born in these eras but naturally in a sexist world, childlessness is seen as a women’s issue not a peoples issue)

yesterday I was the redefining ageing conference put on by Age Uk London. It was a very good event (more on this in a later blog) but I was struck by how there was no reference at all to the large numbers of people who will age without children. I have spent 20 years working in the field of ageing and have never heard it mentioned. Instead speakers talk of children and grandchildren using anecdotes about grandchildrens funny comments to connect with the audience, because everyone has children or grandchildren don’t they?

Now this isn’t to have a go at people for doing this. I laughed along with other people and its wonderful to hear people have such great familial relationships and of course more people have children than don’t, but the childless or child free depending how they define themselves are going to be a big cohort in 20 years time. Why is this NEVER talked about?? why at conferences on ageing are people still continuing to assume that people will have families to support them, when its likely that 20-25% of them will not. Ignoring this issue seems to me utterly bizarre. The potential impact on services is huge; all the tasks family carers routinely carry out unnoticed and unappreciated by the state such as making appointments, running mum or dad to the hospital, making sure they take their medication, getting the shopping in, cooking meals and making older people still feel connected to the world, who will do this for me and for my friends also without children?

I didn’t choose not to have children but that doesn’t matter; what matters is that for me and tens of thousands like me, the state cannot rely on our children to look after us when we get old. There will be more of us because we’ll live a long time. where is the forecasting on this issue? has anyone at DH even thought about it?? and why the bloody hell do we NEVER talk about it??

manAGEing through Sport – a brief outline

Since I first tweeted about manAGEing through Sport, I have been overwhelmed with how many people have contacted me wishing me well and offering help. Other organisations like the men’s health forum, older men’s wellbeing network, sporting memories, independent age and local age UKs have also given helpful advice, guidance and support. I’ve also been asked by quite a few people for more information so I’ve put this brief piece together which outlines where thinking is so far, with the caveat we’re about to start testing our assumptions with older men.

What does manAGEing through sport want to do?

manAGEing through sport wants to reduce loneliness and isolation in older men by bringing them together in groups to watch sport. 

How will it work?

The groups will meet at venues of their choosing to watch sport. The venues could be pubs, social clubs, sports clubs, people’s homes, whatever they prefer. The groups will be facilitated to ensure practical details such as transport, food, booking seats, spaces can be organised for the group.

The idea is that the groups will be facilitated by older men as research suggests older men like men only spaces to talk and socialise but we’re testing this view at the moment.

 Who is it aimed at?

Older men who either live alone or feel socially isolated; for example an older man may live with one of his children but feel isolated from his peers.

Why older men?

There is a wealth of data that shows older men have shorter lives and a less healthy old age.

Will it be free?

No, there will be a charge though a lot of work needs to be done on the financial model. manAGEing through sport will need to be self sustaining; too many good third sector projects cease when the grants run out, we do not want this to happen to manAGEing through sport.

Where is manAGEing through Sport at in terms of development?

Very early stages, we don’t yet exist as a legal entity. We have the overall concept and are currently testing our assumptions by getting the views of older men about how they would like manAGEing through Sport to work in practice. We are also applying for start up funding and a small committee is meeting looking at the various legal structures available to social enterprises.

 

Creating my own social enterprise – this could be the best thing I’ve ever done

(Well possibly apart from being on Blockbusters when I was 17 .)

My day job is a freelance consultant and trainer www,barkerandwoodardconsulting.co.uk working with voluntary & community organisations and I enjoy hugely. I’ve got to work with some brilliant people, great organisations and developed some really interesting pieces of work.

However, I’ve always loved the process of developing new services and the excitement of change. Back in 2004/5 when I was running a healthy living centre for older people in Camden, it was apparent there was a huge gap between the mortality rates of men and women. Services especially lower level day opportunities services were very much dominated by older women, not surprising given the demographics. Consequently the numbers of older men using them were very low. Looking at this we decided to set up a project for older men that met in pubs where they could socialise and each week there was a different speaker talking about wellbeing issues.

Jump forward a few years and I did some research for a client on social isolation in London and was struck again by how few projects there still were for older men.

I also have a huge passion for sport. I grew up watching cricket, athletics, tennis, the olympics, rugby and have always found that watching sport with other people is a hugely life enhancing experience. It fuels emotion in me like nothing else and no I’m not embarrassed that I burst into tears when I first saw the Olympic Park or when we won the Ashes in 2005 or the RWC in 2003.

So with that in mind, I am setting up ManAGEing Through Sport, a social enterprise looking to bring groups of older men together through watching sport collectively either live or in pubs and sports clubs.

Its in very early stages with myself and a few like minded people meeting to discuss it further. I’ve also had very helpful and positive discussions with @menshealthforum and @oldermenshealth. I’m extremely excited for it and now looking for start up funding.

I’m hoping this will be the start of something brilliant and new for older men – and I have to say for me as well!