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