Our Voices Report is Published
“I don’t think people at the government have the faintest idea how many of us there are. If they did, I think they’d be worried!”
While there has been extensive and widespread coverage of many ageing related issues, the issue of being old and without children has received virtually none. 1 in 5 people over 50 have no children yet there is little understanding, discussion or consideration of how this may impact on individuals, services for older people and the wider community.
‘Our Voices’ details the experiences and thoughts of this hitherto invisible group of older people – those ageing without children. It tells individual stories of people ageing without children and highlights the key themes and issues that affect them.
Themes highlighted in the report include:
· being judged unfavourably by others for not having children;
· the feeling of not being noticed and feeling ‘invisible’;
· the lack of practical support when there is the expectation that your children will look after you;
· losing touch with other generations as you get older
· no one to tell your story for you or, even remember you.
Produced by the organisation, Ageing without Children (AWOC) and funded and supported by the Beth Johnson Foundation (BJF), ‘Our Voices’ tells individual stories of people ageing without children and identifies the key themes and issues that affect them along with recommendations for possible solutions. The full report is available to download here
Speaking today Kirsty Woodard founder of AWOC said:
“More and more people are entering their later life without adult children. Not just because they have never been parents but also because they are estranged from their children, their children predeceased them or because their children are simply unable to play any part in their life e.g. as they live in a different country. However, services still work on the basis that there will be family to step in, as does Government policy. In 2017, for the first time there will be more older people needing care than there is a family to provide it. Society has changed dramatically and thinking on ageing must shift too and that includes understanding that 20% of older people do not have children to offer help or support”
And Baronesss Sally Greengross comments:
“I am delighted to be associated with this report produced by BJF and AWOC. The area of ageing without children has been neglected for far too long and this opening review highlights some of the concerns and challenges faced by this group.
Not before time, the report brings to our attention some of the underlying issues behind the lives of older people who do not have children. This includes, for example, false assumptions made about them, ageism, language, and many people ageing without children belong to groups experiencing other forms of discrimination, including racial discrimination, and discrimination against LGBT people. I see this as the beginning of a vibrant discussion and debate on this area.”
Colin Hann, Executive Chair of BJF said:
“‘Our Voices’ begins to tell the story of what it is like to be older and without children. The quotes and stories shared in this report relate first-hand experiences of what this means in practice. To date and perhaps surprisingly, this is largely an uncharted area. It reflects our priority at BJF to lift a veil on aspects of older people’s lives that helps to reveal what is really going on behind the surface, and the reality of people’s day to day experience.”
Ageing without Children was set up in September 2014 to help people ageing without children live a later life free of the fear of ageing alone and being without support. Its first local group was established in Leeds in 2015 and it now has groups in York, Stockport and London. The founder and CEO is Kirsty Woodard: www.awoc.org
The Beth Johnson Foundation (BJF) is a national charity dedicated to making the UK age-friendly. We work with a network of volunteers, researchers, intergenerational practitioners and age-specialist partner organisations to conduct cutting edge research, advise policy makers and initiate pioneering age-friendly programmes in order that changes are made at a strategic and practical level to ensure everyone enjoys a great later life. Colin Hann is Executive Chair: www.bjf.org.uk. Interviews can be arranged with participants in the study: see contact details below. For more information contact: Kirsty Woodard, AWOC Director on 07919 335680 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Or Colin Hann, Executive Chair, BJF: on 01782 844036 or email email@example.com
This is not the life I imagined, or planned, for myself. But yesterday I turned fifty – single and childless. I never made a conscious decision not to marry or have children, but neither did I actively seek those things. I just assumed they would happen, in the normal way of life, as they did to most people.
An academic high-achiever, growing up in the 1970s and 80s (the shoulder-padded decade of the ‘Yuppie’), I may have been subconsciously influenced by the prevailing narrative that pregnancy meant the end of life chances, not the beginning. Remember Marlene, the hard-nosed lead of Top Girls, Caryl Churchill’s defining play of the era, who gave up her daughter with learning difficulties, in pursuit of her (ultimately empty) executive career?
As an only child, having attended hot-house single-sex schools, I had no template for forming positive romantic relationships in my teenage years. I went on to university, however, and started a career in television – both fruitful grounds for finding a partner, you might think. But for me, it just didn’t happen. The men I worked with were older, married or gay. There was no internet dating or social media in those days, when my online ‘stock’ would have been high. Not so now, when most men of my age are looking for a woman at least ten or twenty years younger, with whom to start a family!
But neither am I a ‘Marlene’. I lost my father to cancer when I was a student – I have always known that family matters more than material success, and am very much a nurturing person. I find myself looking after others in many ways, and those nurturing instincts have been diverted primarily into care for my mother, who has lived with dementia for well over a decade – nearer twenty years from the earlier symptoms. Her needs have become paramount, arguably to the detriment of both my career and my personal life.
The social and financial contribution of carers (particularly the freelance or self-employed, who don’t show up in any HR stats) is often invisible and vastly under-valued.
So now I find myself facing older age with no family to care for me, as I have done for my mum and I admit it scares me. I have seen, through many crisis points with mum, how vulnerable you can be in the social care system and the NHS – let alone in wider society - with no-one to speak up and fight for you.
This government repeatedly asserts that the solution to social care needs is greater family responsibility – both practical and financial. But who are these families, who can do more? The same ‘hard-working families’ who are told to keep grafting in the office and on the shop floor to boost the economy? The sandwich generation (mostly women), already struggling to support both children and frail elderly parents, while holding down those full-time tax-paying jobs?
I ran away twenty-three years ago. I fled my huge, abusive family for a life of poverty and ill health. It was also a life where I wasn’t treated like a punching bag or a sex toy. It was a life of freedom. Freedom has a price, of course. Every medical check-up where I’m asked about illnesses that run in my family, I have no answers for them. When good-natured folks ask if I’m spending Christmas with my family, I shake my head and move the subject on to something else.
As my age increases and the medical problems escalate, my worries increase too. I’m asked questions about my carers (of which there are none), my family (I still don’t have one of my own) and my strange medical history (abuse-related scars, burns and internal injuries). Medical staff still seem unprepared for the fact that, when it comes down to it, I don’t have anyone. One of my girlfriends’ names is down as my next of kin, but she lives 200 miles away with her other partner. Her existence does little for the assumption people of all ethnicities have: that for black people, family is everything, and to be without one is downright freakish. After all, we are supposed to come from big jolly families. We are never supposed to be victims of child abuse. We are breeding machines, straight, able bodied, young at heart, with a great sense of rhythm. Well I am none of the above, although my dancing is pretty decent.
I am a black, bisexual person who only identifies as a woman 70 per cent of the time. My hysterectomy due to fibroids means I really have tied the knot on children ever being a part of my life. I face racism, homophobia, biphobia and sexism on a daily basis from all sections of society. Ageism is just another form of bigotry that makes up part of my life now.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans communities in the UK tend to be young and very white. I rarely feel at home in any of these spaces where alcohol seems like the only thing to drink when you’re out, where gay white men are free to channel their inner ‘feisty black woman’ as they make racist comments to my face, and where lesbians will refuse to speak to me once they find out I’m bisexual. It’s not possible to make everyone happy, but it’s also very difficult to make new friends or meet potential partners in these environments.
Living a life of freedom is hard when so much is stacked against me, but it is the life I must lead. I have no choice but to live, to look after myself, for there is nobody else to do it for me. Both of my girlfriends have their own partners and caring responsibilities. My closest friends live miles away.
I am honestly scared about the future, because I never imagined I would live this long. I do know that I don’t want to hide or keep parts of my identity secret when I’m in hospital or in a care home. My abusive family thrived on secrets and denial. I don’t want to be anything like them.
But I’m scared of ageing all the same.