A report by ‘Ageing Well Without Children’ (AWWC) has concluded that there are over a million people in the UK aged over 65 without children, who are deemed ‘dangerously unsupported’, and that this number will double by 2030. It is also worth noting 90% of over 65s who identify as LGBTQ, and 82% of those who are disabled also do not not have children. This makes them far less likely to receive informal support, and help to receive formal support in their later years. Additionally, they are more likely to be carers for their elderly parents, and far more likely to suffer loneliness, social isolation and diminished mental health. We are seeing a rise in the ‘beanpole’ family, where generations have fewer children, resulting in fewer familial links and therefore, fewer opportunities for support from extended family.
Beyond the immediate psychological and health concerns, over 65s who do not have children are without the unpaid care that those with children may expect. This increases the financial burden on them, as they have to self-fund support options, and may have no financial help in paying for residential care at a later date.
Paul Goulden, Chief Executive of Age UK described this demographic as a “blind spot” in policy, as many policymakers have incomplete demographic data on this group. As a result of this, whilst the Government may try to provide a safety net for many in society, regardless of its multiple failings, there is no such safety net for this group.
This requires further dedicated research and a consciousness from Government of our ageing population. It is vitally important that we have a specialist care and health system to support people who develop conditions such as vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, who do not have the support network for symptoms or care failing to be flagged to professionals.
This is clearly a complex issue that requires significant research and policy reworking, but it is hard not to recognise the impact of austerity and privitisation. The Conservative Government is systematically funding the NHS well below the rate of population growth or inflation to the point of collapse, and then using that collapse to justify selling key healthcare services off into the private sector. Whilst the Government pursues this avenue, every patient in contact with NHS services is a victim of an overworked and underpaid staff, major services being relocated or discontinued to cut cost, and facilities falling into complete disrepair. Further to this, adult social care is funded chiefly by the local authority, and I know in Bolton that the Council has lost over £1b spending power in the last 9 years, since the beginning of ‘austerity’.
Properly funding our local authorities and health services might not be an instant fix to the issue of isolated over 65s, but it would go a long way to helping.