As we age, the presumption is that our children will look after us - so much so Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has urged us all to recognise our “responsibility” and look after our parents in old age to reduce the burden on social care.
But that safety net does not exist for the 20 per cent of older people who did not have children, and tomorrow (TUES), experts will gather in Leeds to see what can be done for the “invisible group” getting older alone.
Ageing Without Children was founded by Kirsty Woodard in 2014 in response to the growing numbers of older people over 50 without children. By 2030, 2 million people will be over 65 without adult children.
She said that while many age-related issues have had widespread coverage, ageing without children has been overlooked.
“This at a time of massive cuts to social care and other support services for older people,” Ms Woodard said.
The group will launch its first report at Leeds Civic Hall tomorrow, which features the experiences of people ageing without children, and looks at issues such as why more people are in the situation; why people are often judgemental about those without children; and what the impact may be on a practical level.
“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,” Ms Woodard said. “ One in five people over 50 have no children yet there is little understanding, discussion or consideration of how this may impact individuals, services for older people and the wider community.”
Mr Hunt has repeatedly spoken of the need for children to care for their parents, including at a speech to the Local Government Association in Harrogate in June last year, when he said a new “social contract” was needed to make Britain “the best country in the world to grow old in”.
He said: “Family planning must be as much about care for older generations as planning for younger ones. A wholesale repairing of the social contract so that children see their parents giving wonderful care to grandparents – and recognise that in time that will be their responsibility too.”
The organisation aims 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 those it supports includes people who have never had children, either by choice or circumstance; people whose children have predeceased them; people who are estranged from their children; and those whose children may live very far away.
The launch will be opened by Leeds Council’s executive member for health, wellbeing and adults, Coun Lisa Mulherin. She said there were “many people” in the city who do not have family to support them in later years - and this could increase their chance of suffering from loneliness.
The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to raise awareness of the issue of loneliness, which affects more than 90,000 older people in the region, since February 2014.
Coun Mulherin said: “While 50 is not very old, there is plenty of evidence to show that as we get older it can make a big difference if you have children to help out and even keep an eye on how you are as time goes on. And I know how much it can mean for parents to share experiences with younger family members too.
“So for people without that family support, loneliness is more likely and the need for other ways to be involved with the community becomes more important.
“I hope this event will give us the chance to explore positive ways to help in Leeds.”