Inheritance System and Care – Part 2

by Dr Antu Sorainen, Title of Docent, Academy of Finland Research Fellow, University of Helsinki, Gender Studies (antu.sorainen@helsinki.fi)

“It’s almost more important for a gay person to write a will than almost any other group in society. When writing a will, an LGBT person will have been able to give consideration to people and organisations that have had a positive effect on their life: they are not simply choosing their blood relatives to inherit with no regard to whether they deserve it”, responded the UK lawyer Siôn Hudson – who regularly drafts wills for people from all around Cambridge – to my first blog from 31 May.[1]

In this second blog I am discussing why it matters for queer people how governments seek to reform inheritance tax laws. In my view, sexuality is deeply implicated in the distribution of wealth through inheritance system. Inheritance taxation is under scrutiny in Europe: and an urgent matter when we think about inheritance from the point of view of queer relationships. The trend to abolish inheritance taxes has direct bearings on the organization of queer care, both structurally and at personal level, as the decline of public welfare puts more ideological, political and managerial stress on private care.

If queers do not write wills to support financially their friends, lovers and community (a fact derived from by my research data and practicing lawyers’ experiences), the queer community will depend more than before on the co-incidences of blood ties and will be exposed to familial and social homophobia.

***

My case study is the Nordic welfare countries where finance economics and political populism are currently feeding on social injustice in terms of inheritance taxation. Sweden abolished inheritance tax in 2005 in favour of capital gains tax, meaning that property is taxed not when inherited but only when realized.[2] Norway abolished inheritance tax in 2014, though it remains in Denmark and Finland. The latter country, however, seeks to follow the lead of Sweden and Norway; a new government has declared that intergenerational transmission in family firms will be advanced through reducing inheritance tax, and that capital gains tax and “other options” will be evaluated.

Finland risks a lot. Even in the equality “paradise” of Sweden, family background (status, education level, surname) correlates with the individual’s wealth path in society. This social factor arguably only heightened when capital gains tax was introduced. As one consequence of the cutting of inheritance tax, flats now circulate within families even for generations because the capital gains tax is rather high (30%) in Sweden. Rich families do not sell their flats but pass them on as tax-free legacies. This influences on the gentrification process in the biggest cities, and also the continuing difficulty of class travel in society.

As an example of how capital gains tax leads to socio-economic stagnation and creates a class glass ceiling for queers, we might take the example of Finnish immigrants to Sweden. Many Finns moved to Stockholm, Gothenburg or Norrköping suburbs in the 1960s to live on factory jobs. This mass migration was one consequence of the rapid urbanization of the Finnish society, which left small farmers without a future in their own country. These rural migrants were accompanied by a significant number of Finnish lesbians and gays who moved to Sweden in the 1970s as the sexual atmosphere was much more liberal there.[3] These immigration generational cohorts are now getting elderly, and if they had children these are now properly ‘swedizised’. Even if some of them are economically well-off, they are often without any hope of ever buying a flat in city centres since valuable flats are circulated through the inheritance system in a number of wealthy Swedish families.

Marriage would open a route to this circle of inherited flats – but marriage was not a legal option when Finnish queer immigrants were younger. These flats are not on the open market for other immigrants or Sweden’s own nouveau rich, either. It is clear that this does not help to overcome social inequalities or to maintain big Swedish cities as a buzz of trade and liberal life supported by mobility and difference.

***

Capital gains tax thus impacts on social minorities in negative ways. It will lead to increasing accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few. This “weather forecast” could be given to all societies with a big ratio of social inequalities, such as the UK.

John Stuart Mill advocated, for one, high inheritance taxes. For Keynes, inheritance was inherently unequal and not to be defended albeit he valued the right for economic gain – but the conservative agenda thrives and we lack critical voices based on proper socio-legal impact analysis. A shift in the direction of capital gains tax would result in an increase in socio-economic homogamy, the effects of which would impact the stability of minorities in society – those whose intimate relations, reproductive choices and support relations do not accord with the law’s categorizations. Queer sexualities have relevance for the inheritance institution’s categories in that the inheritance system distributes wealth mainly in small heterosexual family circles and potentially neglects “other” relationship categories than those based on blood and heterosexual marriage.

Adopting the capital gains tax may benefit some lucky queers born in wealthy and liberal families but keeping the inheritance tax and adjusting the system of inheritance taxation could benefit many if not all. What I would suggest is to have a better look at inheritance tax categories to make them sensitive to difference outside of conjugal norm and to better hinder tax avoidance of the rich through family firms.

[1] http://www.millersands.com/the-importance-of-having-a-will-the-lgbt-perspective/

[2] Magnus Henrekson and Daniel Waldenström. 2014. ”Inheritance Taxation in Sweden, 1885–2004: The Role of Ideology, Family Firms and Tax Avoidance.” http://www.ifn.se/wfiles/wp/wp1032.pdf

[3]Sorainen, Antu. 2014. “Two Cities of Helsinki: One Practically Queer and One Liberally Gay.” In Matt Cook and Jennifer Evans (eds.) Queer Cities, Queer Cultures: Europe Post 1945. London: Bloomsbury, 211-239.

Inheritance System and Care: Queer will-writing

by Dr Antu Sorainen, Title of Docent, Academy of Finland Research Fellow, University of Helsinki, Gender Studies (antu.sorainen@helsinki.fi)

Laurie Anderson, in a recent interview with the Guardian, was asked: “What song would you like played at your funeral?”
Answer:
“Not my problem.” [1] [2]

Even though it is a witty remark, I beg to disagree. Arranging one’s after-life could be of a great benefit for those one cares about. Kinship, care and inheritance belong to the same package. The wealthy always knew this and took care of their economic interests through marriage and bloodline based inheritance arrangements. Not many of those at the margins of the society think that they need to write wills, seek to arrange their financial aftermaths, or indeed, funeral rituals to make sure that their kinship tradition lives. However, those few queer funerals that I have attended, carefully following the wishes of the deceased person, have been really important for the queer community, including at a symbolic and performative level, building and passing on the tradition, history, encouragement and memories of many important aspects of the past and present queer struggles.

In my view, we should actively advocate will-writing among those social groups who traditionally have not “owned” this tradition as theirs, especially under the current neoliberal and conservative political and economic currencies targeting the inheritance system that I will discuss in my next blog post. Activists in the legal field should encourage people to take care of their inheritance arrangements as far as they can, as an important and oft-neglected form of care; in particular, queer care. By this, I mean that inheritance could be conceptualised and re-imagined as not only transformation of property but also as taking care of those who actually matter in one’s life: directed towards friends, lovers, and community. Will-writing offers a pathway to new identifications: we could re-imagine new concepts for care practices that the society tries to hide from the people who do not follow its dominant norms.

Daniel Monk (2013) [3] argues that will-writing potentially offers a site for queer acts. He suggested that they as well as being the scene for an ultimate declaration of one’s final will, provide possibilities for not only to pass on property but also for passing of other kinds of “goods” such as coming-outs, supporting the queer community and/or the chosen family, friends or lovers, disinheriting the possibly homophobic blood relatives, or publicly recognising the “real” care and support relations in one’s life.

Will-writing is a reflection of an ideal of autonomity of the modern individual. If sexually or otherwise marginalised people would look at will-writing as their right to define the posthumous destiny of not only their wealth but also of the well-being of people who they really care for, also outside of the blood relatives circle, they might more often come to think to write wills for supporting their lovers, friends, community, and other real life-carers. In this way, as a mechanism for transmitting property from one person to another, and from one generation to another over time, lesbian and gay wills could have a considerable social and economic significance.

There is a particular purchase to bringing in legal thinking in the study on inheritance and socially marginalised groups since as a discipline and practice it has to deal with different kinds of relationships. The law is the classic locus for situations where categorical and interpersonal relations confront each other: the law deals with persons in relation to categories [4] . When it comes to inheritance, often even a small inheritance has made it possible for many ordinary as well as many famous people to create uncommon, radical, world-changing lives outside the pressure of the normative legal and social understanding of parenting and relationships (Sorainen 2015). [5]

Coming up  in my second blog post:
“I worry about putting my friends in a difficult economic position if I’ll add them into my will”, one of my lesbian interviewees told me. This is a legitimate concern because, in her country, Finland, her queer care and support network members would be subjected for a much higher inheritance tax than her emotionally distant siblings would be.

My next blog-post will consider how, in this way, legal categorizations privileging bloodline and/or marriage often fail to recognize the actualities of non-normative personal lives and the ”chosen heirs”. This is especially prudent as on 27 May 2015, Finland decided to seek to change its inheritance laws. At the moment, if a close blood relative or a friend inherits property in Finland, the inheritance tax is from 8- 36%. But in case of inter-generational family business inheritance, the tax is, on average, only 2,8% of the market value of the company. I discuss the effect of this on the queer community and on the dissemination of wealth throughout society.

References:

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/may/16/laurie-anderson-interview

[2] When I told the anecdote at the opening of this blog to one of my gay male interviewees, he said: “In my funeral, they should play Laurie Anderson’s song Same Time Tomorrow.” The song goes like this: “And so when they say things like “We’re gonna do this by the book”, you have to ask “What book?”, because it would make a big difference if it was Dostoyevsky or just, you know, Ivanhoe.” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePMwwa436ug

[3] Monk, Daniel. 2013. “EM Forster’s will: an overlooked posthumous publication.” Legal Studies, Volume 33, Issue 4 December 2013, 572–597.

[4] Strathern, Marilyn (2005). Kinship, law and the unexpected: Relatives are always a surprise. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[5] Sorainen, Antu. 2015. “Queer Personal Lives, Inheritance Perspectives, and Small Places.” Nordic Journal for Queer Studies – Lambda Nordica, a special volume on Kinship and Reproduction, 3-4/2015 vol. 19.

‘Counting the Costs? Resources, Austerity and Older LGBT People’

The ‘Minding the Knowledge Gap’ ESRC funded seminar series held its fourth seminar at the University of Surrey last week. This seminar, called ‘Counting the Costs? Resources, Austerity and Older LGBT People’ addressed the material, financial and social resource implications of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) ageing, particularly in times of austerity. It was well-attended by participants from a range of backgrounds: LGBT individuals (in all their diversity, including some in older age); advocates and activists; academics; social policy makers; and the police. There were two speakers. Dr Noah Uhrig, from the Institute for Social & Economic Research, University of Essex, gave a fascinating talk on ‘Poverty and Material Well-being of LGBT elders’, somehow managing to make some very complicated statistic not only accessible but also enjoyable. Audience members gazed in avid fascinating and still wanted more at the end. The second speaker, Dr Martin Mitchell, NatCen Social Research presented on ‘Not just “a nice thing to do”: Marginalisation and hardship for LGBT older people in the context of austerity cuts.’

Noah spoke of recent research project on poverty and sexual orientation (constrained by the usual problems with representative sampling of a ‘hidden population’) which suggested significant material differences in later life for LGB individuals compared with heterosexual individuals, and between one another. A key feature was the suggestion that older lesbians were materially advantaged compared with both older heterosexual individuals and older gay men. Noah’s data – which he bravely presented, anticipating the response it would meet – were, not surprisingly, hotly contested by many of the lesbian members of the audience. They found the idea of older lesbian material advantage counter-intuitive. Discussions raised issues of: women’s relative lower earnings to men; women’s greater representation in (lower paid) public services work, especially care work; women (including lesbians!) taking time out of work to have children, and to perform other informal unpaid care work (including for parents and grandchildren); women being much more likely to be in part-time paid work (rather than full-time work) while also performing unpaid informal care work (1). Noah acknowledged the tensions provoked by the data, and plans on conducting further analyses. We look forward to hearing more!

Martin then spoke of the double-edged sword of austerity cuts. Older LGBT individuals are more likely to need support from those public and voluntary sector services (health and social care, informal and formal social support) which are currently subjected to drastic cuts in funding (2). Those cuts in services impose increased pressures on an already pressured cluster of minoritised individuals, meaning they have a greater need for services, at the very time when there are fewer services available. Lack of material and social resources have profound implications for the well-being of older LGBT individuals (3) (4).

Afternoon discussions returned to the issue of gender (again unsurprisingly) and to the need to continuously unpack the ‘LGBT’ acronym (5), to appreciate how older lesbians, gay men, bisexual women and men, and trans individuals are particularly affected by the material and social resource implications of later life. The plight of the Opening Doors London project, supporting 1,000 older LGBT individuals in the London area, and which has lost all of its funding, highlighted the lived realities of the implications of austerity cuts. Towards the end of the day two distinct responses to resourcing projects for older LGBT in later life: the neoliberal model of private and national state engagement; a more localist, communitarian approach involving local LGBT groups and local government. It was mentioned that in Australia and some parts of the USA, older LGBT have been designated a ‘special needs group’ (with all the complications of such a categorization) and as such are eligible for state funding for local projects.

Much food for thought, and much work to be done, but all-in-all, it was a stimulating and thought-provoking day, made so by the contributions of all who attended.

(1)    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.

(2)     King, Andrew (2013) ‘Prepare for Impact? Reflecting on Knowledge Exchange Work to Improve Services for Older LGBT People in Times of Austerity.’ Social Policy and Society / FirstView Article / November 2013, pp 1 – 13 DOI: 10.1017/S1474746413000523, Published online: 19 November 2013

(3)    Fredriksen-Goldsen, et al (2013a) ‘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

(4)    Fredriksen-Goldsen, Karen I., et al. (2013b). ‘The physical and mental health of lesbian, gay male, and bisexual (LGB) older adults: the role of key health indicators and risk and protective factors.’  The Gerontologist, 53(4):664-675.

(5)    Ward, Richard, Rivers, Ian. and Sutherland, Mike (eds) (2012). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support.  London: Jessica Kingsley

 

 

 

Empowering the Voices of LGBT Individuals with Dementia

A seminar in London organised by the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP) and facilitated by myself, was attended by over 40 people this week, to discuss how we can give greater individual and collective voice to lesbians, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people with dementia. Attendees included dementia service providers and advocates, older LGBT service providers and advocates, older LGBT people themselves, and academics working in the field of LGBT ageing and/or dementia. There were three excellent speakers: Rachael Litherland from DEEP; Sally Knocker (trainer, consultant and writer) and Dr Elizabeth Price (Senior Lecturer, University of Hull). Two short films were shown: one from Opening Doors London (which includes a gay men with memory problems in need of befriending and extra support) and a training clip from GenSilent (which features, among others, a gay couple dealing with one partner’s dementia; a lesbian couple pondering their future care needs; and a trans women who is dying, is estranged from her family, and lacks support). One of the most amazing things about the seminar was that it started without us! Many people arrived early, some by almost an hour, and struck up vibrant and deeply engaged conversations. These continued even after we introduced the planned bits of the seminar, and went on over the tea break, and into the group discussions which then followed.

LGBT individuals with dementia are not one homogenous group (1). As dementia is age-related and women outlive men, then older lesbians and bisexual women are likely to be disproportionately affected by dementia (women outnumber men with dementia 2:1) (2). This, together with relatively diminished social support in later life, means that older lesbians are likely to also be disproportionately represented in care homes for people with dementia. By contrast, gay and bisexual men who do find themselves in those spaces will be a minority in a minority due to both gender and sexuality. Many LGB people are impacted by the lack of recognition of LGB carers of someone with dementia (3) and of LGB health and social care service users, including in dementia provision (4). This is nuanced by gender: older women are particularly concerned about being around potentially sexually disinhibited behaviour of heterosexual men with dementia; and many older lesbians and gay men want integrated provision, but many also want gender and/or sexuality specific care. This is also nuanced by sexuality: many bisexual individuals suffer from the disappearing ‘B’ in LGBT (5), being assumed to be heterosexual if single or in a relationship with a person of another gender and being assumed to be lesbian or gay if in a relationship with someone of the same gender.

Trans individuals (who may or may not identify as LGB) are concerned with both shared and particular issues (6). Those particularities include: concerns about transphobia; being worried about not being able to cross-dress; being very concerned about receiving personal care if their physical bodies are not congruent with their gender performance; and, among those who have transitioned, being concerned that if they have dementia, as it progresses, they may no longer remember that they have transitioned, and may revert to performing according to the gender which they were assigned at birth.

A wide ranging number of themes emerged across the seminar. These included: the issue of how to ‘find’ LGBT people with dementia who may be hidden both by their dementia and by their sexualities and/or gender identities; the importance of making sure any project which aims to empower LGBT people with dementia is driven by LGBT people with dementia; concerns about heteronormativity, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia among dementia service providers and dementia service users; the importance of training and practice development among service providers (7); the importance of both mainstream providers and the LGBT ‘community’ taking responsibility for addressing these concerns; and the need to take into account the needs of queer/polyamorous/non-labelling individuals with dementia who can often be hidden in generic LGBT discourse.

All attending the seminar were agreed that it was a very successful and stimulating event, and hopefully would lead on to the development of a number of different projects which will give greater voice to LGBT individuals with dementia in the future. A range of possibilities were discussed, including making mainstream dementia advocacy more inclusive of LGBT individuals with dementia, and LGBT intergenerational projects, which would involve LGBT befrienders supporting LGBT individuals with dementia. DEEP will be keeping all those who attended informed in future developments. Anyone wishing to know more, should contact the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP)

(1) Newman, R. and Price, E. (2012) ‘Meeting the Needs of LGBT People Affected by Dementia,’ in R. Ward, I. Rivers & M. Sutherland Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, pp183- 195, London: Jessica Kingsley. [Accessible via: http://bit.ly/1dGiQCb]

(2) Knapp, Martin, et al. (2007) Dementia UK: a Report to the Alzheimer’s Society. London: Alzheimer‘s Society.

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

(4) Ward, R., River, I. & Sutherland, M. (eds) (2012) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, London: Jessica Kingsley

(5) Jones, R. (2010) ‘Troubles with bisexuality in health and social care.’, in: Jones, Rebecca L. and Ward, Richard (eds) LGBT Issues: Looking beyond Categories. Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care (10), pp 42-55, Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, pp. 42–55.

(6) Auldridge, A., et al (2012) Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults: Recommendations for Policy and Practice. New York: Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders and National Center for Transgender Equality

(7) Suffolk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Network (2012) Providing Quality Care to LGBT Clients with Dementia in Suffolk: A Guide for Practitioners; Alzheimer’s Society (2013) Supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Society Factsheet 480. London: Alzheimer’s Society: