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.

Rethinking the Care Needs of Older Homeless People

by Rachel Barken and Amanda Grenier

The care needs of older adults experiencing physical and cognitive decline generate much attention in political, popular, and academic debates. Yet, particular subgroups of the older population are often overlooked. Such is the case for older homeless people, whose numbers are increasing across Canada and internationally. Older homelessness is also largely invisible in academic study, although interest is beginning to turn in this direction. Few gerontological works focus on homelessness, and studies on homelessness are often organized around earlier parts of the life course (Crane & Warnes, 2005; McDonald, Dergal, & Cleghorn, 2007). As a result, we know little about older homeless adults’ needs for care.

Our research project, “Homelessness in Late life: Growing Old on the Streets, in Shelters, and Long-term Care” explores the challenges older homelessness brings for aging societies as a whole and for service providers working in housing, shelter and long-term care. It involves a critical policy analysis; qualitative interviews with service providers and older homeless people; and participant observation in homeless shelters in Montreal, Quebec. This blog reports preliminary results from interviews with 15 service providers working with older homeless people. Interviews revealed three findings relevant to the challenges and contradictions of later life homelessness: (1) the need to adapt current approaches to homelessness to better accommodate older people, (2) the need to develop and sustain affordable housing across the life course, and (3) the inherent emotional conflicts and contradictions associated with homelessness in late life.

First, homelessness tends to be approached as a rupture in the life course requiring an emergency response. Support services are often provided in reaction to a fixed event, with the aim of reconnecting people with work or housing.  Interviews with service providers, though, reveal that older homelessness is often the result of marginal and precarious positions over time. The combined implications of social marginalization and older age means that traditional solutions based on work and housing are less able to ‘fix’ the problem of older homelessness. A deeper understanding of the interconnected individual and structural forces leading to later life homelessness is necessary.

Second, older people are caught between various housing and long-term care models. Housing options for older homeless adults in Canada include affordable housing units, alternative housing models, emergency shelters, and residential and long-term care facilities. Yet there is often a disjuncture between housing policies and practices on the one hand, and older homeless adults’ experiences, needs, and abilities on the other. Older people may need to compete against younger groups for subsidised housing. Pensions provide a certain level of income, but this does not address the shortage in supported housing options. Add to this that shelters or rooming houses are not intended as spaces to grow old. They are not adapted to changes in mobility and certainly do not qualify as ‘home’. Long-term care is also often inaccessible to older homeless people. They either cannot afford long-term care, or their needs cannot easily be accommodated in institutional environments.

Our third finding is perhaps most interesting to the debates circulating on this blog. Although workers do not necessarily name it as such, their interviews convey emotional, moral, and ethical conflicts around service priorities, personal associations, and expectations of aging. Their comments that one is ‘not expected to be homeless in later life’ poignantly articulate the conflicts that they experience with regards to aging and marginalisation and a profound helplessness given the lack of service options available for older homeless people.

In sum, homelessness rarely figures in to discussions of later life care. This leaves us with few directives when attempting to care for older homelessness people. We suggest that a life course perspective could be fruitfully applied to understand major pathways into homelessness, particularly risk factors and trigger events, and their prevalence across the life course. With this in place, it is necessary to design housing and care options that suit older homeless people’s diverse needs, abilities, and interests. Finally, it is urgent for discussions of later life care to address the realities of homelessness in particular, and social marginalization more generally. Our project, grounded in empirical data, seeks to generate knowledge that will enable policymakers and practitioners to account for homelessness in their responses to later life care.

References:

Crane, M., & Warnes, A. (2005). Responding to the needs of older homeless people.         Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 18(2), 137-152.

McDonald, L., Dergal, J., & Cleghorn, L. (2007). Living on the margins: Older homeless    adults in Toronto. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 49(1-2), 19-46.

* The results discussed in this blog are part of an ongoing study being carried out at the Old Brewery Mission in Montreal, and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada: Homelessness in Late Life: Growing Old on the Streets, in Shelters and Long-term Care: Amanda Grenier (PI), Tamara Sussman, David Rothwell and Jean-Pierre Lavoie.

Amanda Grenier, PhD, is Director of the Gilbrea Centre for the Studies of Aging, Gilbrea Chair in Aging and Mental Health, and Associate Professor in Health, Aging and Society at McMaster University, Canada.

Rachel Barken is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at McMaster University and Research Assistant on the Homelessness in Late Life research project.

Spaces of Care – the banning of soup kitchens

There is an extensive literature on “spaces of care” i.e. “socio-spatial field[s] disclosed through practices of care that take place between individuals” (Conradson, 2003; 508). Such spaces can be found in a range of settings: care homes for the elderly, day centres for the homeless, hospitals.

I have been grappling for some time without making much progress (those at the ReValuing Care conference in Adelaide will recognise these concerns from my paper there) with the treatment of a particular space of care – the soup kitchen. My reason for this interest was prompted by the attempts made by Westminster City Council in 2011 to outlaw soup kitchens in an area of London around Westminster Cathedral close to Victoria station.

One of the distinguishing features of the soup kitchen is that the space of care is an outdoor public space. This means that they are often viewed negatively by both local residents and local authorities. At the Adelaide conference I asked three questions which I would still welcome any help or suggestions in answering.

The first question relates to the nature of care offered by a soup kitchen. In an era where charitable and not for profit organisations are increasingly incorporated into the delivery of state care there is a view that “support agencies are increasingly accepting of the use of enforcement in some circumstances, in a desperate attempt to improve the quality of life of their clients and reduce any negative impact their activities might have on other people if/when all other approaches have failed” (Johnsen and Fitzpatrick, 2010; 1717).

By contrast providers of soup kitchens tend to fall outside the corporatist contracting mode of delivery of services. They are often provided by faith groups “attempting to articulate a theo-ethical sense of agape and caritas, a genuine openness to and an outpouring of unconditional love towards the other” (Cloke et al 2010; 99). In this “[s]oup runs tend to be noninterventionist, accepting of difference, and aim to bestow upon individuals the dignity to just ‘be’ without demanding anything in return” (Johnsen et al 2005; 329). This puts them very much at odds with government policy.

So my first question is whether we should distinguish between these two forms of care? What, if anything, is special about care which is delivered by non-professionals who are not demanding change from the recipient?

However, even if we see a positive in this rejection of a coercive form of care, can the soup kitchen do more than offer a compassionate but “ultimately degrading construal of the homeless as helpless victims” (Feldman, 2004; 92). Given its delivery of food in an outdoor setting does the soup kitchen do no more than simply help keep the homeless alive or does the “outpouring of unconditional love” referred to above provide something worthwhile in and of itself?

Finally, my last question relates to the long history of the soup kitchen which have been with us since the middle ages. Westminster’s attempts to outlaw soup kitchens were ultimately put on hold. But in an age of ever increasing control of public space why does the soup kitchen prove so resilient?

Professor Caroline Hunter, York Law School, University of York

caroline.hunter@york.ac.uk

References

Cloke P, May J. and Johnsen S. (2010) Swept up lives: Re-envisioning the homeless city Chichester: Wiley­Blackwell

Conradson D. (2004) Spaces of care in the city: the place of a community drop-in centre, Social & Cultural Geography, 4:4, 507-525

Feldman L.C. (2004) Citizens without shelter: homelessness, democracy and political exclusion Ithica: Cornell University Press

Johnsen S., Cloke P. and May J. (2005) “Transitory spaces of care: serving homeless people on the street” Health & Place 11, 323-336

Johnsen S. and Fitzpatrick S. (2010) “Revanchist Sanitisation or Coercive Care? The Use of Enforcement to Combat Begging, Street Drinking and Rough Sleeping in England” Urban Studies 47(8), 1703-1723

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:

Sexual identity and care home provision: some reflections on the research process

My colleagues and I at Swansea University have recently completed a mixed-methods study into the provision of inclusive care to older lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people in residential and nursing care environments in Wales – an elongated title for saying, ‘how well are older LGB recognised and cared for in care homes?’ We know from the literature that heterosexism in residential care provision can mask the sexual health needs, diversity and desires of older LGB residents. Prior research from Australia and the United States has identified institutional and historical barriers that prevent older people ‘coming out’, or identifying as LGB to care providers (Barrett, 2008; Jackson, Johnson & Roberts, 2008; Knockel, Quam & Croghan, 2010; Tolley & Ranzijn, 2006). Our research was funded by the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (NISCHR) and had a unique focus on Wales as a UK nation with devolved responsibility for providing health and social care to its citizens, including older people. Residential and nursing homes (private and local authority-owned) from across Wales took part. Two methods were used to gather staff perspectives on inclusive care —self-completed questionnaires (121 respondents), and focus groups with care staff and managers (5 groups) from 32 organisations. Other methods included: content analysis of Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) Inspection reports (383 reports) to identify content pertaining to sexuality, sexual health and LGB identities; and, semi-structured interviews with 29 older LGB-identifying adults about their hopes and expectations for future care. The final report is available online and provides an overview of the key findings and recommendations: http://www.swan.ac.uk/humanandhealthsciences/research/research-impact/lgb-residential-care-report/

What follows are some brief reflections on the process of involving care organisations in the research – reflective comments on the research process that do not always make the final edit of reports and papers but may help steer future research in this domain.

Willingness to participate and learn – We initially anticipated that seeking care home participation would be the biggest challenge in recruitment because of the politically-charged nature of the topic and our concern that staff and managers would interpret our research endeavours as a critical appraisal of their practice.  Instead, we were struck by the enthusiasm of staff and managers to participate. Using a random sampling method, we invited 51 organisations to participate with 19 declining. Most of these homes declined because of impeding closures that created logistical barriers to their involvement. For some staff groups, participation in a focus group was framed as an informal learning opportunity into an area that receives little time and attention, an unexpected but positive outcome. Across focus groups, there was general agreement of a ‘need to know more’ about sexual difference and LGB histories. Participating staff members conveyed an awareness of progressive shifts in legislation and social attitudes but in equal measures expressed a willingness to be more mindful of the sexual biographies of residents in their care.

Sexuality, dementia and everyday care – While our research focused on sexual identity and social inclusion, a connected and equally pertinent topic that frequently emerged in focus groups was the complexity of balancing issues of sexual expression, dementia and informed consent. Staff elaborated on the challenges of negotiating sexual relationships and intimate contact between residents with declining mental capacity alongside responding to the often divided opinions of family members. Listening to these accounts of complex care deepened our appreciation for staff members’ commitment to respecting the rights and choices of residents in their care and to continually ‘do the right thing’. It also brought home the ethical complexity of providing care in these settings for employees who were in receipt of a low financial reward just above the minimal wage with little professional recognition.

Missing voices from the research – Staff views and accounts conveyed through the research represent predominantly White perspectives. The majority of participating staff and mangers were white, heterosexual women born in Wales and of mainly Christian background. This clearly did not match our observations of staffing groups when entering homes – we noticed many participating homes employed staff from black and ethnically diverse groups, including individuals from African and Asian migrant communities. We were limited to the staff available to speak to us between rotating shifts and group membership was often facilitated by senior staff members operating as ‘gatekeepers’ for their organisations. It is difficult to pinpoint whether individual staff from migrant and ethnically diverse communities opted not to participate for personal or religious reasons or whether they were not approached to participate; we can only speculate about possible barriers to participation. Ethical requirements prevented us from actively approaching individual staff to participate. Finally, we did not anticipate the eagerness of ancillary staff members (such as cleaners, kitchen staff etc.) to have a say in the research. It became increasingly clear that their various duties involved regular contact with residents and their views were of equal importance in the provision of inclusive care. We confess to underestimating the validity and contribution of these staff members’ perspectives; food for thought for future research.

I hope the above reflections are of some benefit to other researchers and practitioners engaged in research in an area of increasing interest. Putting these observations to paper has been valuable for me in capturing the often sidelined messages about research into organisations providing care to others.

Barrett, C. (2008). My People: A project exploring the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex seniors in aged-care services Retrieved 16th October 2009, from http://www.matrixguildvic.org.au/MyPeopleReport2008.pdf

Jackson, N.C., Johnson, M.J. & Roberts, R. (2008). The potential impact of discrimination: fears of older gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals living in small- to moderate-sized cities on long-term health care. Journal of Homosexuality, 54(3), 325-339.

Knockel, K.A., Quam, J.K. & Corghan, C.F. (2011). Are Old Lesbian and Gay People Well Served? Understanding the Perceptions, Preparation, and Experiences of Aging Services Providers. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 30(3), 370-389.

Tolley, C. & Ranzijn, R. (2006). Predictors of heteronormativity in residential aged care facilities. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 25(4), 209-214.

About the author: Paul Willis is Senior Lecturer in social work in the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University. His research interests include ageing, sexuality and social care; wellbeing and identity construction of LGBT youth; and social inclusion in organisations. Email: P.B.Willis@swansea.ac.uk

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…?