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  • Writer's pictureJenny Collieson

“Is this what AWOC has been preparing us for in a way?”

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Last month we asked members of the AWOC York Group to answer a short survey about their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have now produced a report reviewing our findings.

This week The Guardian revealed the tragedy of dozens of people found to have died alone in their own homes during lockdown and whose bodies lay undiscovered for up to two weeks. Most of these were older people living alone, a very sad reminder that many are vulnerable, isolated and have no family or other “safety net” when crisis strikes.

Current social commentaries on the impact of Covid-19 agree that it has magnified the deep-rooted inequalities which exist in relation to health and social care provision in the UK. Unmet needs are likely to increase as charities supporting older people experience higher demands for services whilst losing substantial fundraising income with some now facing potential closure.

Most of the pandemic stories on TV and in the press are viewed through the lens of family and family separation, images of grandparents unable to hug their grandchildren, adult children standing outside care homes waving to their resident parents, or good news stories of the very old surviving the virus and celebrating surrounded by their loving extended family.

It’s understandable that these human interest stories make headlines but what about the experiences of people ageing without children or whose families are estranged or living at a great distance? What about those who may be socially isolated, not online, frail or living with dementia ? Where are the stories of older people who are actively supporting others in their local communities with help, advice and emotional support ?

People ageing without children are not a homogenous group, they identify as AWOC for a host of different reasons but in a society where it is assumed family will be there to care when needed they are at a disadvantage. However, research shows that people often do not think of the later life implications of being AWOC until they are in need of care and support, often this coincides with becoming a carer themselves for ageing parents or older relatives.

On 27th May a webinar took place which attracted a wide range of individuals and members of organisations interested to learn more about how the crisis of this pandemic illuminates some key AWOC issues and discuss some ways of addressing these both individually and collectively as we move into a post-Covid-19 recovery phase.

Feedback from the York survey was presented at the webinar and although limited to a small number of responses, it was very helpful in illustrating what concerns members at the moment – practical challenges around food shopping and accessing medicines, the potential for digital exclusion when more of life suddenly becomes virtual by default, anxieties and fears about catching the virus, caring for others, anger and concern at the impact on residential care, and thoughts on self-care and planning for later life.

Whilst this was a small study undertaken on a voluntary basis we hope that our findings can attract wider interest from organisations working with older people who are committed to highlighting the experiences of people whose voices often go unheard and embedding these in the development of new policies and programmes.

On a positive note, the value that members derive from the peer support provided by the York Group is evident, as is the fact that many spend time volunteering and supporting others locally contrary to the ageist narratives of vulnerability and passivity which dominate much of the media coverage about older people.

It is clear that AWOC York can draw upon the personal strengths, resilience and life experiences of its membership in campaigning for changing the conversation about people who are AWOC!

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