Why do people still assume that ageing without children is a problem?

By Nina Steele 

I have worked for an old people’s charity for over 7 years and one of the things it has taught me is that many of the assumptions we have of older people are either false or exaggerated. One such assumption is that older people without children are more likely to not receive the care they need and this article in the Guardian is a case in point. Yes the article is right in that because of lack of funding, most councils only provide care for people whose needs are deemed critical or substantial. Anyone who falls outside those categories has to fund their own care, although some can still get help, depending on their personal circumstances, as all help is means tested. In my experience, many of the people who seek help have children, but are still the ones making the phone calls and asking for help with filling assessment forms etc. No one ever says, ‘I am seeking your help with filling this form because I have no children’.

The issue is not whether or not people have children, it is whether or not older people are aware of the help they can get. Many older people have no idea of the various benefits that they are entitled to and that is where charities come in handy. To assume that people who have children are likely to get the help they need in old age while those without children are not, is wrong. Yes some of the children will make calls on behalf of their parents but in the majority of cases, it is the older people themselves who do all the work so they can get the help they need. Also In my experience, most of the children do not have the finances to care for their parents because they have limited resources and families of their own to look after. Most of the time what the children do is coordinate the care that their parents receive by liaising with various agencies, with the money coming from the older persons themselves or the council. Caring for older people can be quite expensive and the greater the need the more resources are needed to fund those needs and so very few children can afford to help financially.

The real issue facing older people today is more to do with lifestyle changes than the fact that some of them do not have children. The notion that if you have children they are more likely to be there to help with your care is outdated and based on a time when families used to live next to one another. In a rapidly changing world, children are likely to live far from their parents and be so busy with their own families and work commitment that the parents will have to seek help elsewhere. And that is where the role of charities become crucial. Instead of putting the emphasis on the fact that people may not get help because they don’t have children, I believe that we should instead put the spotlight on the crucial work that old people’s charities do. My experience is that these charities are in effect replacing the old family structure that existed before globalisation and the current changes in society. Everyone should be encouraged to make plans for old age regardless of whether or not they have children. To give the impression that those with children need not worry about old age because the children will be there to help is wrong and does not reflect my experience of working with older people.

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