Care needs, gay men aged 60 and over

One of my research projects is to examine how a group of 25 gay men aged 60 and over have experienced or expect to experience old age. Interviewed as part of research I did for a book that Palgrave Macmillan published in 2013 (Gay Men’s Relationships Across the Life Course) the men were recruited in Auckland, London, Manchester, Melbourne, and New York. Six of them were in their 80s, nine were in their 70s and ten were in their 60s. This project builds on work that Brian Heaphy (2009), Ann Cronin and Andrew King (2012) among others, have already done in the area of queer ageing needs. It will also expand on my own findings from an all-Australian sample of gay men (n=80) that I used in The Changing World of Gay Men (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) where I argued that I found little or no evidence to suggest that Australian gay men aged 60 and over were lonely in old age and that most seemed relatively optimistic about the prospect of growing old. What I did not examine, however, in The Changing World was the extent of their fears or concerns about life in care, which is the focus of the research I write about today.

Preliminary analysis of data from my international sample of 25 men suggests that they chiefly used two narratives when explaining what worried them about their care needs in old age. The first narrative related to that set of general fears and concerns that occupy the waking hours of many members of the general population as they age, namely fears about losing mobility or independence, having to live alone after the death of a partner, loss of sexual potency or interest, having to move into a nursing home, or the risk of dementia.

The second narrative the men drew on when explaining what worried them about old age were fears about heterosexism or homophobia. At the top of their list of worries was the heteronormativity they expected would exist in nursing homes or the homophobia of staff or other residents, either of which could have the effect of forcing some of the men back into the closet. One of the interviewees, a Sydney man aged 72 said the following about aged-care accommodation: ‘Nursing homes in Australia are often run by church organisations. Some church organisations, though not all, are not particularly welcoming to gay residents. They are not particularly understanding of the diversity of human relationships and of their needs’. A similar, related fear that men already living independently at home expressed was having to deal with care workers who were homophobic or uncooperative.

Cronin, Ann and Andrew King (2012) ‘Only Connect? Older lesbian, gay and Bisexual (LGB) social capital’ in Ageing and Society Available on CJO 2012  doi:10.1017/S0144686X12000955

Heaphy, Brian (2009) ‘The Storied, Complex Lives of Older GLBT Adults: Choice and its Limits in Older Lesbian and Gay Narratives of Relational Life’ in Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 5, 119–138.

Intergenerational programmes and LGBT people

How can LGBT people of different age groups support each other? This is a key question that the ESRC seminar ‘Intergenerational issues and LGBT people’ held at Oxford on 9th September 2013 aimed to address. The seminar brought together around 40 people – including academics, policy-makers, service providers, third-sector organisations, and advocacy groups – among them younger and older LGBT people.

Older and younger LGBT people have grown up under vastly different socio-historical circumstances. The priorities of needs and concerns of different age groups would be different. Even within the ‘community’ itself, especially among gay men, the focus on youth means that ageism against older people can be rampant. At the same time, reverse ageism against younger people, characterizing younger people as shallow and worry-free, is not uncommon. All these can lead to an impression that younger and older people are marked by ‘differences’ and different generations of LGBT people are torn apart from each other.

However, it needs to be recognized there are similar difficulties both groups face. Despite the speed and extent to which society has progressed on LGBT issues, both older and younger LGBT people still face minority stress on a daily basis, which is related to a range of mental health issues, such as social isolation, discrimination and depression. Service providers, be they educational and employment providers in the case of younger LGBT people, or care homes or day care centres in the case of older LGBT people, still work on heteronormative assumptions. Staff in such settings generally remain ignorant and unaware of, if not hostile towards, LGBT issues.

The International Longevity Centre (ILC) thus argued the case for intergenerational projects as a way to bring older and younger LGBT people together. It was argued that the range of benefits can include:

•    Unifying a diverse community;
•    Reducing age stereotypes;
•    Development of social skills and confidence;
•    Development of practical skills;
•    Exposure of young LGBT people to older LGBT role models;
•    Improved understanding of the needs of older and younger LGBT people;
•    Preservation and increased awareness of LGBT history;
•    Sharing lifecourse experiences and providing social support. (ILC 2011: 5)

It has been repeatedly pointed out in previous posts (http://revaluingcare.net/older-peoples-day-including-older-lgbt-people/, http://revaluingcare.net/a-darker-side-to-care/ ), that older LGBT people can be particularly in need of formal care because they are less likely to have children and more likely to live alone than their heterosexual counterparts. On a point related to this, The ILC argued that intergenerational projects can provide older LGBT people with the opportunities ‘to develop informal relations with younger LGBT people that could ultimately lessen the need for heavy reliance on social care providers, or may help in negotiating relationships with these’ (ILC 2011: 10).

Of course this is not to say it is easy to bring different generations of LGBT people together. But if intergenerational projects could help to bring about a more caring LGBT community that is defined more by empathy and mutual understanding across age groups, how it can be done would deserve more discussions.

Reference:
International Longevity Centre (2011) Celebrating Intergenerational Diversity An evaluation of three projects working with younger and older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/files/Report_1.pdf

Yiu Tung Suen is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (E-mail address: suenyiutung@cuhk.edu.hk).

Older People’s Day – Including Older LGBT people

It’s Older People’s Day in the UK on 1st October, and it seems timely to flag the particular issues affecting older LGBT people, who are an under-recognised and under-served group of individuals. Yet their numbers are growing. It is estimated that between 5-7½% of the population have a ‘non-heterosexual’ identity. This means there are between 61,000 and 122,000 ‘non-heterosexual people’ over 60 living in the UK today, and this figure is set to rise to between 881,000 and 1,763,000 by 2030. Older LGBT share many of the issues and concerns of all older people, but their ageing can be made more complicated by their sexualities, gender identities and histories (1).

According to a recent UK survey comparing over 1,000 older LGB people and 1,000 older heterosexual people (2), older LGB people are more likely to be single and to live alone, less likely to have children and are less likely to see biological family members on a regular basis.  Older LGB people are also more likely to suffer from the consequences of a lifetime of minority stress (stigma and marginalisation) and as a result are more likely to drink alcohol, take drugs and smoke than older heterosexual people. They are more likely to have a history of mental health problems, and to have current concerns about their mental health, particularly depression. This can be linked to bereavement following the deaths of partners and/or close friends, which often goes unrecognised (3).  Many trans people are also estranged from their families, and continue to be regarded as mentally ill under the psychiatric diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ making them particularly wary of engaging with mental health services (4).

With less intergenerational support than their heterosexual peers, older LGBT are more likely to need formal social care, and at an earlier age, than older heterosexual people. Yet at the same time, the majority of older LGBT people are very worried that health and social care providers will not be able to recognise or meet their needs.  Many feel they would have to hide their identities from care staff and/or fellow service users (the older people are, the more they carried the prejudices of the past, (5)). Many are worried that they will be unwillingly exposed by their own or a loved one’s dementia (6). Many are fearful that they will spend the final years lonely and isolated, estranged from loved ones, in care homes where their lives and identities are either not recognised or not valued and validated (7).

We need to ensure that all older people are recognised and respected for who they are, and that includes older LGBT people. We also need to know much more about the lives, needs and wishes of older LGBT people, and this is where the ‘Minding the Knowledge Gaps’ project comes in. This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and is co-organized by Andrew King (PI), University of Surrey, Kathryn Almack (University of Nottingham), Yiu-Tung Suen (University of Oxford/Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Sue Westwood (Keele University). The project involves a series of six themed seminars followed by a final conference, aimed at exploring gaps in knowledge and research about LGBT ageing, and identifying ways to address those gaps. For more information, go to the ‘Minding the Knowledge Gaps’ project. A further project of interest is ‘The Last Outing’ . Based at the Sue Ryder Centre, Nottingham University, the study is exploring end of life care experiences and concerns of older LGBT people.

Both projects can be followed on Twitter: @LGBTageing and @TheLastOuting.

References

(1)  Ward, R., et al (eds) (2013) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.

(2)  Stonewall (2011) Lesbian, Gay Bisexual People in Later Life, London: Stonewall

(3)  Almack, K., et al. (2010) ‘Exploring the impact of sexual orientation on experiences and concerns about end of life care and on bereavement for lesbian, gay and bisexual elders.’ Sociology. 44(5): 908-924.

(4) Fredriksen-Goldsen, K., et al. (2013) ‘Physical and Mental Health of Transgender Older Adults: An At-Risk and Underserved Population.’ The Gerontologist doi: 10.1093/geront/gnt021First published online: March 27, 2013

(5)  Valentine, G. & Macdonald, I. (2004) Understanding Prejudice London: Stonewall

(6)  Price, E. (2012) ‘Gay and lesbian carers: ageing in the shadow of dementia’, Ageing & Society, 32: 516-532.

(7)  Ward, R., et al (2011) Don’t look back? Improving health and social care service delivery for older LGB users, London: Equality and Human Rights Commission.

WeAreOne by Ambreena Manji

Who Cares?

And behind me I hear the footfalls of countless generations and ancestors. And around me the living community of my people, whose woes are my woes; whose moments of joy are mine.

Kofi Awoonor, Ghanaian poet murdered at Westgate, Nairobi on 21st September 2013

On 19th September 2013, at the Annual Lecture of the British Institute in Eastern Africa in Nairobi, Dr Ann Stewart delivered a lecture entitled ‘Caring about care: Recognising and regulating body work in a global market’. Based on her recently published book, Ann gave a compelling and wide ranging talk about forms of care and asked the question ‘who do we care about and how’? The discussions that followed the lecture were vibrant and engaged, the sorts of critical conversations about labour and about gender that I had hoped would come about in my time at the Institute.

On 21st September, at lunchtime, a terrorist siege began of an upmarket shopping mall in Nairobi, Westgate, a mile or two from the Institute. Everyone reading this will have seen the terrifying images. For well-off Kenyans who have become used to hearing the occasional distant grenade explode in the east of the city, in a crowded church or bar or bus station, the events mark a sea change. Here Kenya’s wealthy elite and the international community are the target and terror is at the heart of our lives. I’ve heard it said countless times this week that, looking at photographs of the attack taken in the mall, many of us recognised shop fronts, escalators, sweet stalls, even marble tiles on which we have trodden. As elsewhere, the mall is at once a response to, and a perpetuation of, a city segregated between the wealthy and the destitute. Reborn each day, sparkling clean, its shelves restocked with international branded goods, the Nairobi mall succeeds in making invisible the messy reality of life in a third world city. It would be deeply dishonest to deny that those who clean the mall, serve its meals, guard it – in short, those who provide us with our accustomed care and comfort – go unseen, unknown, unheeded.

Yet in the past three days we have heard stories of supermarket staff, faced with terrified customers running into the shop when the grenades and gunfire began, shepherding people into store rooms, barricading them in to conceal them from the attackers, hiding them behind boxes in stock rooms. Despite our own bleak assessment of ourselves as deeply divided along ethnic lines, as a society riven by long running racial divisions, in the terrifying and traumatic siege of Westgate mall many have commented on the intersecting unities we have discovered this week. An elderly Indian lady, recently returned home from England to care for her elderly mother in Nairobi, and desperate to do something to help, went down to the perimeters of the mall to serve tea and food to the police and media who have worked without a break for days. There she met an African woman who for many years has come to the mall everyday to sell tea and food to its cleaners, waitresses, guards. For the past three days, these two women have teamed up to cook and bring food to those working outside, plastic bags on the ground, car boot full of supplies wide open and elderly mother, still needing to be cared for, in the front seat watching them work.

But the events of the past three days have also made visible that which the well-off and the comfortable work so very hard not to see. The private security guard paid the minimum wage carried our children to safety through a pool of blood; the waitress whom we never greeted in three years of coffee drinking hid us in the cafe kitchen; the cleaner whom we never knew of ushered us to safety through a back exit.

This past three days, Ann’s question at the BIEA lecture – who do we care about – has been constantly in my mind. And as we slip back into our mutual distrust and distance, perhaps we might remember to ask, who cares about (and for) us?

Ambreena Manji

http://www.biea.ac.uk/director-professor-ambreena-manji/

 

 

A Darker Side to Care..?

It’s been great to read the diverse blogs on this site and the definite slant given by commentaries on issues of identity and sexuality to the challenge of revaluing care. Some time ago I attended a meeting with some of the other members of this network where we raised the question of what is ‘queer care’. And more specifically, how could we go about finding out how it was practised and what it meant to people? We were interested in the lived realities of care for LGBT people but also whether queer theory could offer a framework for making sense of this experience.
Of the still very limited research on care in the context of LGBT ageing there is every indication that helping relationships are organised rather differently to traditional binary notions of the care-giver and care-receiver. For instance, Ann Cronin and Andy King’s work suggests interdependence over dependence in lesbian and gay relationships.  Research with the trans community by Sally Hines also points to support clusters and collective ways of helping people rather than dyadic carer/caree encounters. While Margrit Shildrick and Janet Price’s joint work on intercorporeality and their notion of ‘two bodies becoming together…’ sheds a very different light on how we think about the body itself and its potential in helping situations. However, the closeness and intimacy signalled by these accounts stand in contrast to findings regarding care for older LGBT people of the more formal/paid variety.
Here, care is an uneasy term, and comes with baggage. This is why it has been all but bracketed off in critical disability studies, with the intention that this may lead to more novel ways of thinking about the helping relationships that evolve between people. Perhaps then a queer approach could also usefully begin by treating care with caution –  after all there’s no saying that ‘revaluing care’ might not lead us to decide it is a less useful term for future understandings of helping relationships rather than necessarily investing it with new worth. Many LGBT people’s experiences invite such a possibility because so much of what is badged as care can be experienced as very negative and damaging. This can range from the wholesale neglect of the individual supposed to be ‘in care’ to a diverse range of sometimes more subtle indicators of disapproval, disgust or rejection communicated verbally, behaviourally, emotionally, viscerally etc. and all of which are enfolded within care practices. To date, these experiences are not well documented, partly because LGBT people in the ‘Fourth Age’ are largely invisible and ignored by mainstream gerontology, as Ann Cronin has pointed out, and often are too concerned for their safety to identify themselves in the context of relying upon care services. Do the assumptions that underpin how we currently think and talk about care serve to perpetuate the cultural silence about this darker side?
Taken collectively, research to date tells us that many LGBT people are afraid of a time when they might require care. Findings in the UK and US have uncovered significant numbers who would rather take their life than be admitted to a care home and many more who report a fear of care that involves body work and the prospect of being exposed to and handled by a care worker (although much of this research has been conducted with fit and independent people being asked to anticipate the need for care rather than describe the experience of it). Ironically, older LGBT people are more likely to require formal care by virtue of being less likely to have children and more likely to live alone, but evidence suggests many delay or refuse altogether the uptake of services due to anticipation of negative treatment and its impact upon their lives. At the very least then, formal care has a serious reputation problem in certain quarters. But research with older LGBT people also suggests it has a dark side – one that is perhaps most visible from certain (queer) standpoints. In our efforts to debate and revalue care maybe we should begin with the perspectives of those who have a close-up on the under-side of care and its darker recesses. And perhaps the place to start in ‘queering’ care is to dispense with the term altogether in an effort to find alternative ways of capturing helping relationships and reconfiguring the terrain of help and support in later life in ways that might feel more acceptable to minoritised groups…?

Key authorship on older LGB carers

Brotman, Shari, et al (2007) ‘Coming out to care: Caregivers of gay and lesbian seniors in Canada’, The Gerontologist, 47(4), pp. 490–503.

Conaghan Joanne and Grabham, Emily (2007) ‘Sexuality and the Citizen Carer’ Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 58: 325-341

Concannon, Liam (2009) ‘Developing Inclusive Health and Social Care Policies for Older LGB Citizens’, British Journal of Social Work, 39: 403-417.

Corden, Anne and Hirst , Michael (2011) ‘Partner care at the end-of-life : identity, language and characteristics’, Ageing & Society, 31:  217–242.

Cronin, Ann, et al (2011) ‘Categories and their consequences: Understanding and supporting the caring relationships of older lesbian, gay and bisexual people’, International Social Work 54(3): 421-435

Fenge, Lee-Ann, and Hicks, Christina (2011). “Hidden lives: the importance of recognising the needs and experiences of older lesbians and gay men within healthcare practice.” Diversity in Health and Care 8(3): 147-154.

Hughes, Mark, and Kentlyn, Sue (2011. “Older LGBT people’s care networks and communities of practice: A brief note.” International Social Work 54(3): 436-444.

Manthorpe, Jill and Price, Liz (2005) ‘Lesbian Carers: Personal Issues and Policy Responses’, Social Policy & Society 5(1): 15–26

Munro and Karen-Leigh Edward (2010) ‘The Burden of Care of Gay Male Carers Caring for Men Living With HIV/AIDS’, American Journal of Men’s Health, 4(4) 287-296

Munro and Karen-Leigh Edward (2010) ‘The Burden of Care of Gay Male Carers Caring for Men Living With HIV/AIDS’, American Journal of Men’s Health, 4(4) 287-296

Newman, Roger (2005). “Partners in care – Being equally different: lesbian and gay carers.” Psychiatric Bulletin 29(7): 266-267.

Price, Elizabeth (2008) ‘Pride or Prejudice? Gay men, lesbians and dementia’, British Journal of Social Work, 38: 1337-1352.

Price, Elizabeth. “Caring for mum and dad: lesbian women negotiating family and navigating care.” British Journal of Social Work 41.7 (2011): 1288-1303.

Roseneil, Sasha (2004) ‘Why we should Care about Friends: An Argument for Queering the Care Imaginary in Social Policy’, Social Policy & Society 3(4): 409–419

Rosenfeld, Dana, Bartlam, Bernadette and Smith, Ruth (2012) ‘Out of the Closet and Into the Trenches: Gay Male Baby Boomers, Aging, and HIV/AIDS’, The Gerontologist  Special Issue: Baby Boomers, Advance access 31st January 2012, doi:10.1093/geront/gnr138, 0(0):1–9.

Ward, Richard, et al (2005) A kiss is still a kiss? The construction of sexuality in dementia care. Dementia: the International Journal of Social Research and Practice, 4 (1): 49–72.

Willis, Paul, Ward, Nickie and Fish, Julie (2011) ‘Searching for LGBT Carers: Mapping a Research Agenda in Social Work and Social Care’, British Journal of Social Work, 41: 1304–1320

‘Older carers: invisible but invaluable’ by Antony Smith

  • There are 2.8 million people aged 50 and over providing unpaid care in the UK, including 5% of people aged 85 and over.
  • A quarter of all carers aged 75 and over provide 50 or more hours of informal care each week.
  • Carers save the UK economy an estimated £87 billion a year.

At Age UK we hear from many people in later life who are caring for a spouse, partner, relative or friend. Although many find caring rewarding and an expression of their relationship, carers also tell us that they feel invisible and undervalued. Many are stressed and exhausted. Here is an excerpt from one of those personal stories.

Jenny and James

“James and myself were both looking forward to spending our retirement together, but four months after I retired, James became ill and was diagnosed with memory loss caused by depression. Five months later he became ill again, almost overnight, and was hospitalised. He was 71.

“Eventually I was told, because James had Lewy Body dementia, I’d never be able to look after him and that he had to go into residential care. With a nursing background, I thought I could care for James at our home and believed this would be better for his mental wellbeing, but no one listened.

“Once a social worker was assigned to our case, he said he would try and enable a care package where James could live at home with me. However once our financial assessment was done, and we weren’t eligible for funding support, we were left to get on with things ourselves. I set about arranging a care package, but it was a complicated task to do with no guidance. Luckily, I’m able to use the internet, but I dread to think how I would have sorted anything without it.

“After nearly three months in hospital, James finally came home in Feb 2011.

“Being a carer is exhausting – from the moment James wakes up he needs help with everything from moving and getting dressed to washing and going to the toilet. When I don’t have night cover I’m up about four times a night and can’t sleep during the day as James needs someone with him all the time. Because we hired support workers independently we have the same ones nearly every time. I think that’s really beneficial to James, as changing faces can be particularly disorientating for someone with dementia and they perform very personal tasks.

“I take James to a day centre twice a week and this is welcome relief for me. Unfortunately we’ve just been informed that because of local authority funding cuts the centre will close next year. There are about 20 of us who use the centre, and James really enjoys his time there.

“Every six weeks I also put James in respite care for a week, to give me a complete break. Unfortunately on his most recent trip when I went to collect him he had no shoes on, his glasses were missing and he was wearing someone else’s clothes. I could tell he was frightened and he had bruises on his body. When I got him home I discovered he’d lost 8lbs in seven days. I’ve made a formal complaint and am waiting to discover the outcome, but things like that shouldn’t be acceptable and obviously I haven’t felt like I could put him in that respite home since.

“I feel I have managed to come to terms with my feelings of loss and bereavement concerning James, which were overwhelming at the start, and I just have to get on with things. I try not to think about the future. James is getting weaker, and I’m getting older so I don’t know how long I’ll be able to manage and I don’t know what will happen when our money runs out.”

Age UK Is calling for more support for older carers – from government, local authorities and health professionals – such as a Carer’s Allowance for pensioners, a choice of appropriate services and regular carers’ health checks. You can find out more about our work to highlight the support older carers need, as well as the recognition they richly deserve, on Age UK’s website.

Antony Smith is Development Officer for Equalities and Human Rights at Age UK Antony.Smith@ageuk.org.uk

Older lesbians in residential and nursing care

A central feature of care in the fourth age is the medicalisation of ageing bodies, the emphasis on collective bodily care and the power dynamics involved in that care1. An aspect of these dynamics that has not yet been explored is the intersection of age, gender and sexuality in the provision of personal care in residential settings for older people. Single, childless, older women are most likely to populate these settings2. These women are also more likely to be lesbians, both because older lesbians and gay men are earlier and disproportionate users of formal social care, and because older lesbians are more likely than older heterosexual women to be single and childless3. Lesbians have often found the processes of self-disclosure in health contexts a treacherous terrain to navigate in earlier life, many avoiding screening/treatment and/or choosing not to disclose their sexual identities to medical professionals, particularly during intimate physical examinations4. Some younger(er) lesbians also report feeling vulnerable to the heteronormative gaze in those gay commercial contexts frequented by heterosexual women5.

Residential care for older people – heteronormative at best, homophobic at worst6, is situated at the intersection between these two sites of vulnerability. It is also a site of social exclusion where ageing bodies are hidden away and where dependency can mean it is less likely someone will complain about their care or otherwise assert their rights, especially people from minority communities7.

Care spaces in the home or in sheltered accommodation or residential care have long been recognised as complicating the notion of the public-private divide, being both public work spaces and private home spaces. For an older lesbian this becomes even more complicated. Home care which goes public no longer affords the sanctuary of private identity performance and management. Yet at the same time, because it is home care, often in care spaces where the very old older person is hidden away from the public eye, some of the legal protections which she might have been able to mobilise for herself also do not apply, when the disciplinary norms of social relationships dominate. In this way an older lesbian can be disadvantaged in multiple ways by a home that has gone public and a public space that operates on private, heteronormative, lines.

(1)  Twigg, Julia. (2004) ‘The body, gender, and age: Feminist insights in social gerontology.’ Journal of Aging Studies 1891): 59-73.

(2)  Arber, Sara (2006) ‘Gender and Later Life: Change, Choice and Constraints’. In J. Vincent, C. Phillipson and M. Downs (eds) The Futures of Old Age, pp. 54-61, London: Sage.

(3)  Heaphy, Brian Yip, Andrew and Thompson, Debbie (2004) ‘Ageing In A Non-Heterosexual Context’, Ageing & Society, 24(6): 881-902; Stonewall (2011) Lesbian, Gay Bisexual People in Later Life, London: Stonewall.

(4)  Hunt, Ruth, and Julie Fish. “Prescription for Change: Lesbian and bisexual women’s health check 2008.” Stonewall and De Montford University (2008).

(5)  Casey, Mark (2004) ‘ De-dyking Queer Space(s): Heterosexual Female Visibility in Gay and Lesbian Spaces’, Sexualities, 7(4): 446-461

(6)  Ward, Richard, Pugh, Stephen and Price, Elizabeth (2011) Don’t look back? Improving health and social care service delivery for older LGB users, London: Equality and Human Rights Commission.

(7)  Aronson, Jane and Neysmith, Sheila M. (2001) ‘Manufacturing Social Exclusion in the Home Care Market’, Canadian Public Policy – Analyse De Politiques, 27(2): 154-165

“Neighbourhood ‘care’ headed to graveyard of good intention”

By Bob Hudson, Durham University

Neighbourhood watch groups should apply for care status and provide help for older people to counter Britain’s “uncivilised” attitude to pensioners.

As well as looking out for potential burglars and keeping an eye out for neighbours gardens, watchers could also offer help to elderly neighbours, including washing and feeding.

Although attractive in principle, the evidence suggests it would be unwise to equate the concept of neighbourhood with assumptions about its capacity to create a rich social capital.

What makes good neighbours?

In a report with Melanie Henwood, we reviewed the sociological evidence of “neighbourliness”.

We found several things that shape our experience of neighbourhoods, including proximity – whether you live next door or in the next street – and how quickly you can pop round or help in an emergency, although the ability to help in an ongoing way is declining and more limited than it used to be.

How long you’ve lived somewhere and whether you’re considered a “newcomer” also shapes our experience as well as social polarisation – reciprocal neighbourhood care grows where information and trust are high, and where there are limited resources for satisfying needs in other ways – classic features of deprived and socially homogeneous neighbourhoods.

Communities and associations

In the 19th century, the sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies argued that in rural gemeinschaft (or community) groups, social order was based on a web of social ties – people knew each other in a range of multiple roles, such as parents, neighbours, co-workers, friends or kin.

But urban neighbourhoods were organised more like gesellchaft (or associations) with single-stranded ties – only knowing each other in single, specialised roles such as “the person next door” or the binman.

These structures have only intensified. Better transport, longer journeys to work, a wider geographical spread of friends and kin, a wider range of shopping and recreational opportunities, and more insular families, have all reduced the idea of neighbourhood as the central point of social interaction and social support.

The prospect of relying on those in the neighbourhood to help vulnerable neighbours with washing and feeding, let alone companionship (and especially in urban areas), looks remote.

Big Society and other attempts

The last Labour government invested quite heavily in a range of neighbourhood-focused initiatives but with little to show for the effort.

Evaluations of two initiatives they launched, the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy and the New Deal for Communities programme, which both aimed to utilise community spirit to improve deprived neighbourhoods found little evidence of improved conditions or growth in social capital.

The idea of another programme was to employ a neighbourhood manager, supported by a small team, to drive local improvement and create community cohesion. Again, the results were less than fulsome.

More recently, there’s been the Big Society, the flagship Tory election policy to empower communities and take a more active role in looking after each other and providing local services. But despite the rhetoric, little has been heard of much trumpeted initiatives that fall under its umbrella, such as the National Citizen Service or the 5000-strong Community Organisers programme to “galvanise those around them to become more active”.

The Big Society concept itself has become something of a byword for failed politics.

Lamb’s idea

Where does this leave Lamb’s proposal? There is no doubt that he is on to something interesting with his focus on neighbourhoods. But it’s fanciful to think there is a huge store of social capital out there just waiting to be cultivated.

Neighbourhood policy and practice already crosses all sectors – informal, independent, statutory, voluntary and community. It also straddles many organisational and professional boundaries.

An area with around 10,000 people living in it, for example, is likely to contain primary health care services, community health services, adult and children’s social care and support, early years and primary school provision, neighbourhood policing, a community pharmacy, neighbourhood wardens of some sort, a number of voluntary and community groups, housing offices, commercial and leisure facilities, and some measure of social capital.

All of these contributions are important but they rarely act together. Now there’s a serious policy challenge with a huge potential pay-off.

Bob Hudson does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
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Recent publications on researching older lesbians

Two new articles by Sue Westwood have recently been published on researching older lesbians. The first was a very brief essay in a compilation a compendium edited by Sally-Marie Bamford and Jessica Watson, entitled ‘Has the sisterhood forgotten older women?’ Sue’s piece, ‘We are Older Women Too’ highlighted the marginalision of older lesbians from discourse about older women and ‘LGBT’ ageing research. Sue has also just had a paper published in the Journal of Lesbian Studies‘Researching Older Lesbians: Problems and Partial Solutions’ explores practical and ethical issues arising from Sue’s empirical research with older lesbians as part of wider PhD research project on LGB ageing and equality. The article highlights the difficulties and power dynamics involved in researching older lesbians, and suggests a more collaborative way of working:

Abstract: There is a lack of research about older lesbians, who can be considered not only a “hidden population” but also a population in hiding. Yet older lesbians hold vital historical and cultural narratives which are, in turn, the heritage of younger lesbians. They also have much to contribute to understandings about gender, sexuality and ageing, and to their currently unmet needs in terms of age-related housing, health and social care provision. This article reflects on some of the issues that make it difficult to access older lesbians for research purposes. It identifies four problematic areas in researching older lesbians: definitions, access, representative sampling, and ethical issues.  It suggests that participative action research  might offer a means of widening access and engaging with older lesbians in a more collaborative way.

For more information, please contact Sue Westwood (s.westwood@keele.ac.uk).  The article can be accessed on the Journal of Lesbian Studies or by contacting Sue.

Jane Traies is another researcher also publishing about older lesbians. Jane is working on a research project about older lesbians, based at the University of Sussex,  building the first-ever comprehensive picture of older lesbian life in the UK. Jane has also recently had a chapter published,  ‘Women Like That: Older Lesbians in the UK’ in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing : Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, edited by Richard Ward et al. For more information about Jane’s project, see her website:  ‘Women Like That.’