I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Kirsty Woodard Founder of Ageing Without Children, AWOC. Kirsty really opened my eyes to the very great need for Independent Advocacy for this group of older people. We are now exploring how we can work together to provide independent advocacy support to this largely unseen group of people. Below is a blog written by Kirsty to help raise awareness of AWOC’s work. If you are interested in finding out more about AWOC or supporting work in this area please do contact Kirsty directly, her contact details are below.
“Not so much hands-on care as Independent Advocacy, championing me, and being sure to have my best interests at heart”
Earlier this year, AWOC carried out a survey of 400 people ageing without children. Their biggest fear? Having no one to speak up for them or act in their best interests when the time came that they could no longer do it for themselves. These comments were typical
“I will have no one to look out for me and my interests as I am currently doing for my father with dementia. The system is not geared to doing this and assumes there are family members”
“nobody to speak up for me when I cannot speak up for myself especially where health care is concerned”
“you hear terrible stories about abuse in care homes – often it is only exposed because the children or grandchildren become concerned and can prove what is happening”
At least 1 in 5 people over 50 currently have no children (we only have the statistics for women as none are kept on men) and by 2030, 2 million people will be over 65 without adult children.
Why does this matter? It matters for two main reasons. Firstly, the state assumes older people have family and there is an expectation that they will be involved with offering care and support. Indeed, the current government have suggested that families should take more responsibility for older people as the state is rolled back.
“In those countries, when living alone is no longer possible, residential care is a last rather than a first option…..If we are to tackle the challenge of an ageing society, we must learn from this – and restore and reinvigorate the social contract between generations.
And uncomfortable though it is to say it, it will only start with changes in the way we personally treat our own parents and grandparents.” Jeremy Hunt,
Health Secretary in Speech to National Children and Adults Services Conference.
To be fair, the evidence shows that most of the time families especially adult children do intercede though whether of course they should have to plug the gaps in a failing social care and health system is another matter. However, the social care and health system is not geared up to deal with those who do not.
Secondly, society as a whole in the UK remains resolutely ageist; while sexism, racism and homophobia are deemed unacceptable, derogatory comments and assumptions about older people pass by without remark. Older people as a whole are seen as a burden on society, lacking value or importance. Abuse and poor treatment of older people has also been much in the news; from 15 minute home care visits, the scandal at Mid Staffordshire hospital to Panorama to ‘protecting our parents’, there has been a stream of reports highlighting appalling treatment of particularly frail and vulnerable older people. In the light of this, it’s no real surprise that people fear ageing without children and worry about being ignored and badly treated.
For those people ageing without children, Independent Advocacy will be absolutely crucial. However most local authorities are struggling to fund advocacy with money often only available for statutory provision, IMHA, IMCA, Complaints Advocacy and since April 1st 2015 Advocacy under the Care Act 2015. Broader based or long term independent advocacy is under more and more threat. This is a real worry when it’s clear that the need for it is going to grow considerably. This will need to be addressed so that people can age without children without fearing that they will be ignored and overlooked.
“I wonder, who will be shouting for me? Or will I be the old lady dying alone in a hospital bed because no one cares”