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!