We live in an age of acronyms. Today I am an AWOC – an Adult Without Children.

We now have over 1.5M people falling within the adults without children category and it is one of the fastest increasing sectors of the population.  By 2030 that figure will have risen to 2m. By comparison 850,000 people are now living with dementia but that is not set to rise to 2M until 2051.

The number of women who have not become mothers has more than doubled in a generation, from 9% of those born in the 1940s to 19% of women born in the 1960s. It is estimated that 25% of women born in the 1970s will not be mothers. It is estimated that around 23 per cent of men over 45 are without children. In the LGBT community it is estimated that 90% are ageing without children.

92% of all unpaid care is provided by close family members. More worryingly people ageing without children are 25% more likely to go into residential care, and at an earlier age and lower level of dependency. Generally AWOC’s have poorer health and have a life expectancy of up to 2 years below those who are parents.

This means that in the next 20 years unprecedented numbers of AWOC’s reaching oldest old age.  How will they be supported in the absence of children or grandchildren?   We cannot assume that wider family networks will “step up” as we are also entering the age of the ‘bean pole’ family.

AWOC’s will have a much greater reliance on formal care services but at a time when such services have never been under more intense pressure. Public spending reductions, difficulties recruiting and retaining staff, the fallout from Covid all mean that many residential care homes are no longer commercially viable. Private providers and voluntary organizations are struggling to cope with the additional demand on their services. This is a crisis in formal care services which has serious consequences for AWOCs. Ageing AWOCs who need care and support in later life face significant barriers including having no-one obvious to advocate for them, or mediate with health and care services, or curate their care.

In my 38 years as a solicitor I have seen some tragic cases of vulnerable AWOCs being systematically abused – usually financially but occasionally physically.  It can be as low level as the cleaner who adds the odd pound or two to the vulnerable adults shopping bill each week as a ‘perk’.  At the extreme it can be the ‘gardener/handyman’ who exerts undue influence on the vulnerable adult so they make them the prime beneficiary in their will. I even had one case where the handyman moved into the elderly persons home, effectively imprisoned her in the spare bedroom and ‘made merry’ with her possessions and savings.

Equally I have seen elderly AWOCs ‘buy’ friendship and companionship, often by forming relationships with much younger partners from developing countries.

So where does all this take my ponderings?  I am not wholly sure.  Growing old can be a frightening occurrence, growing old as an AWOC even more so.  Rather than ignore it, try to embrace it.  Here at Gedye and Sons our private client team have a depth of knowledge about the specific concerns of AWOC’s so if you want specialist help email us on info@gedye.co.uk