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If I had a pound for every time someone has said that to me since AWOC was set up in 2014, I wouldn’t have to work for free! 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.[1]

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 law [2]

  • a 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[3]

  • “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”[4]

  • 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 care[5].

  • The above statistic needs to be considered in the context that not only are more people ageing without children but that the numbers of people living alone is also increasing: 28% of UK households are single person households and over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone [6].

  • Numbers 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. And yet still the myth persists that people are simply not doing enough for their elderly parents. It would be interesting to examine why the belief remains so strong despite the evidence but that’s for another blog.

The question is, why does this matter for people ageing without children?

It matters because if the level of support, help and care provided by adult children is misunderstood or flat out denied, the issue of who will support, help and care for people ageing without children is also easily dismissed. If wider society and the government doesn’t believe that older people if they need it are generally (not always obviously but as the statistics show, mostly) helped, supported and cared for by their adult children, then it is easy to continue to insist that people ageing without children will face no particular difficulties over and above those with children will face in later life. It means people ageing without children will continue to be over looked and ignored in debates on ageing and the future of care, and the government will continue to push the line that the future of care for older people rests with their children.

By 2030, 2 million people will be over 65 without adult children and we know thanks to research from the International Longevity Centre that “the adult social care sector in England faces a gap of 200,000 care workers by the end of this Parliament because of restrictions on immigration and a failure to attract British workers. Longer term, the sector could face a shortfall of 1 million workers in the next twenty years [7]” How do we face up to these triples challenges of more older people without adult children to offer help, support and care, ever more stringent criteria for social care and a diminishing social care workforce? We can’t leave it till 2030, we have to start planning now both as individuals ageing without children but also on a national and local level. 2030 is really not that far away.

[2] Carers UK “facts about carers” policy briefing May 2014

[4] THE GENERATION STRAIN COLLECTIVE SOLUTIONS TO CARE IN AN AGEING SOCIETY Clare McNeil and Jack Hunter Institute for Public Policy Research

[5] Current and future challenges of family care in the UK  Andreas Hoff Zittau/Goerlitz University of Applied Sciences  March 2015

[6] Households and families Jen Beaumont Edition No: Social Trends 41 Editor: Jen Beaumont Office for National Statistics

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