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“I don’t expect/want my children to look after me”

“Great! What plans have you made so they don’t have to?”

I've not yet met an older person who told me they expected their children to look after them but as we see below, the reality is when it comes to times of crisis, most older people are helped and supported by their adult children.

You may not expect or want your children to look after you but they are there and if there is nothing and no one else, the chances are they will step up. People ageing without children simply don’t have that safety net or the luxury of not making plans.

If you don’t want or expect your children to look after you, make a plan so they don’t have to.

“most people’s children don’t look after them anyway”

Insisting that most older people in the UK are not helped, supported or cared for by their adult children seems to be a firmly held belief, not just by the public but the Government as well. Jeremy Hunt has repeatedly said that children should take on more responsibility for caring for elderly parents

“We need a wholesale repairing of the social contract so that children see their parents giving wonderful care to grandparents – and recognise that in time this will be their responsibility too”

and the Government’s entire social care policy for older people seems based around the idea that adult children are not doing enough to help and they must do more.

But what does the evidence say? Are older people not supported by their children as the government and many people in society claim? Below are some of the statistics around this issue

The majority of the 6.5 million carers in the UK – 40% – are looking after either a parent or parent in lawa quarter of people aged from 45 to 60 provide active day-to-day support to their mothers and fathers, essential to enable them to continue living independent lives“Most care for older people is not provided by the state or private agencies but by family members, at an estimated value of £55 billion annually. However, as the baby-boomer generation ages, a growing ‘family care gap’ will develop as the number of older people in need of care outstrips the number of adult children able to provide it. This is expected to occur for the first time in 2017” (The Generation Strain IPPR 2014)More than 80% of disabled older people receiving informal care and living in private homes are being cared for either by their adult children or spouse or both of them together. The ‘oldest old’ are predominantly cared for by their children, whereas married older people predominantly receive spousal careNumbers of older people in care homes between 2001 – 2011 (most recent figures) has remained static at around 291,000 despite an increase of 11% of people over 65 from 8.3 million to 9.2 million.

The facts show that adult children are not on the whole as people or the Government seem to think, routinely abandoning their parents to look after themselves or as the media often like to describe it “dumping them in a care home”. Caring for an elderly parent is hard, time consuming and exhausting and yet every day millions of people up and down the country are doing it.

“you can use all the money you didn’t spend on having children on buying care”

Just like older people with children, older people without children encompass a wide variety of backgrounds, employment history and income. Not having children doesn’t mean that we have a massive disposable income in our later life. Some people will have spent many thousands of pounds on infertility treatments, others will have been carers for their own parents with all the impact that has on employment opportunities. Some people actively chose not to have children because they couldn’t afford it. Many people ageing without children are also single, supporting themselves entirely with no capacity to save.

Don’t assume we all have money because we really don’t

“I’m sure your friends will help”

The assumption that people without children create a substitute or surrogate family of close friends who they will be able to turn to or rely on when they get old the same way older people with children often turn to them in moments of need or crisis is an enduring comfort blanket.

It’s OK the story goes, they may not have children or a partner or any siblings or nephews and nieces but they will have loads of friends who will do the same thing. So there’s no need to worry or think about the issue.

Its nice to think everyone has lots of friends but as the Campaign to End Loneliness has shown us, many people do not. Interestingly on forums for childless/childfree people, many talk about how their friendships have not survived friends having children as their lives change irrevocably.  Even if we do have lots of friends, they tend to be of a similar age to ourselves and therefore ageing at a similar rate. The help and support groups of friends can offer in their 50s and 60s is going to be different to what they can do in their 80s. As people age, the role of their friends in providing care and support will change, and for the oldest old, the number of friends will decrease as people die

Friends can help but they can't be the whole answer

“oh! I just assumed you didn’t want kids”

There is very little research on post fertile women, (and none at all on men) on why they didn’t have children but what does exist has identified that 10% of women made a positive choice not to have children but for the other 90% it was a combination of medical reasons and circumstance i.e. it just didn’t happen. If someone never wanted children and have reached later life without them, they have lived they wanted but for people who desperately wanted children and have reached later life without them, they need to come to terms that it will never ever happen and they have not lived the life they would have chosen. Never assume it was people’s choice and even if it was, choosing not to have children does not negate their right to worry about their old age and who will speak up for and support them.

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