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Growing numbers cast adrift.

Older Childless People “Dangerously Unsupported”

More than a million childless people aged 65 or above are living with dangerously inadequate levels of support, suffering isolation and lack of access to formal care - and that number is expected to double by 2030.

Only 10% of adults make a conscious choice not to become parents; another 10% endure the sadness of infertility. The remaining 80%, the overwhelming majority, are victims of circumstance, or “societal infertility” as it’s otherwise known, never having found the right relationship within which to have children.

Why is this a problem?

This is an issue because older childless people experience worse health and higher mortality rates than their contemporaries who are parents. They have less access to unpaid care, because that is something overwhelmingly provided by adult sons & daughters. Consequently, they get stuck in a cycle where they are more likely to require formal care but struggle to arrange it for themselves - because it's our grown-up sons and daughters who most commonly arrange care for us when we get older. With our health and social care systems already struggling to keep up with demand, the future is potentially grim for childless people as they get older.

Anything being done about it?

This is a political issue that is beginning to attract attention. Kirsty Woodward has set up an organization called Ageing Well Without Children, which aims to lobby for better support for childless older people and to set up a nationwide network of support groups.

Paul Goulden, the Chief Executive the London branch of Age UK has acknowledged that, as a society, we have a blind spot about the vulnerabilities of childless older people. “There is an assumption,” he says, “that older people have children they can rely on … but if you don't have someone who you can pick up the phone to, you’re wide open for abuse, scams and generally suffering a poor experience of life.”

The consensus among the charity and social care sector seems to be that something specific must be done to help older childless people, and that the first step must be to put aside the assumption that every older person has a supportive family.

But as ever, with political inertia being the new normal, we can't hold our breath in anticipation of adequate support being in place anytime soon.   

What can you do to help yourself?

So if, whether by accident or design, you are childless in midlife, what positive steps can you take, to plan for an adequately supported later life?

The most important step is to put your Lasting Powers of Attorney in place. This is something you should turn your attention to in midlife while you are fit and well. The aim is to create your Powers of Attorney then forget about them and get on with your life, knowing you have them to fall back on if needed.

You can make a Lasting Power of Attorney for Property and Financial Affairs and you can make one for Health and Welfare. In doing so, you appoint people who will act as your “Attorneys” when needed. Your Attorneys are people who will manage your affairs and ensure your wishes are respected if you're ever too unwell to handle things yourself.

Your Attorneys for Property and Financial Affairs will be the people who manage your money and your property, take care of your bank accounts, liaise with the pension companies and benefits agencies on your behalf and make decisions regarding your major assets such as your house and your savings. If you’re ever incapacitated and haven’t appointed an Attorney, there won’t be anyone with legal authority to manage your finances. This in turn can trigger a costly application to the Court of Protection to appoint a “Deputy” for you – but only if you have someone who can make that application. A childless older person without a Lasting Power of Attorney risks falling through the cracks and ending up in a financial limbo.

Meanwhile, your Attorneys for Health and Welfare are people who will be your representatives if you're unable to give or withhold consent to decisions about the way you should be looked after and what medical treatment you should receive. Consent is strictly personal to you. Normally, when you're unable to give or withhold such consent, social workers and medical professionals make those decisions for you, based on what is “in your best interests”. If your preferences conflict with what they think is best for you – tough. However, your Attorneys for Health and Welfare must be obeyed as if they were you. This means that your Attorneys can insist on your preferences being honoured even if the professionals disagree. So, you get to retain far more control over your life, no matter what may happen to you in the future.

Clearly, the people you choose to act in the role of Attorney must be people who know you well and who you can trust implicitly. If you have a partner, they will be your first choice in most circumstances. If not, then your closest friends or your siblings, nephews and nieces maybe an ideal choice.

It's always wise to appoint at least two Attorneys acting jointly and severally, so that, if you outlive one of your Attorneys, or if one of your Attorneys becomes ill, there is someone to fall back on.

If you I don't have a wide choice of people in your circle that you would trust to manage your financial affairs competently, you can appoint a professional such as your accountant or your solicitor. There are specialist solicitors who carry out the role of Professional Attorney for older childless people.

Another important choice to consider is whether to make a Living Will. This is a document in which you state clearly what your preferences would regarding end of life care. Commonly, it will specify that, in your final days, quality of life should be prioritised over quantity – for example authorising adequate pain relief even if that risks hastening the actual moment of death.

The main thing to bear in mind is that, as with many aspects of modern life, our ability to rely on the state to help us in our hour of need is sadly fading away, so we need to be brave and implement adequate self-help measures.

If these issues affect you, guidance is just a phone call away. Just call us on 0151 601 5399 and we’ll point you in the right direction. Or fill in the contact form below.

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