A critical report launched by Age UK and The Salvation Army shines a light on the specific challenges experienced by people who are socially excluded in later life. The report explores the issues facing people living with poverty, homelessness, drug or alcohol addiction, severe mental illness and/or who are ex-offenders.
The report ‘Too old to help’ found that while social exclusion was incredibly difficult at any age, ageing magnifies the challenges and the stigma which socially excluded people already face, while at the same time often reducing the support which is available.
The qualitative research by Britain Thinks which forms the basis for the report comprises interviews with nine socially excluded people between the ages of 50 and 73 years, and seven professionals who work in this specialist field.
The outcomes of the report were discussed at an online parliamentary event this week (16 June) by charities, MPs and service providers.
The report highlights the numbers of socially excluded older people and the fact that services too often lack the specialist skills and resources to meet their needs.
• Health services not asking older people about their alcohol consumption or drug use because they presume that these problems are an issue experienced by younger people.
• Services are not adapting to meet the needs of people living with cognitive impairment. For example, communications can be long and complicated and support isn’t provided to help people to remember their appointments.
• Older people are expected to attend services in the same spaces as younger adults, which can be intimidating, particularly if people are being disruptive or violent. When accessing group services, they may also find it hard to relate to younger people or feel ashamed and embarrassed if they are older than other service users.
• That many services that support socially excluded people often centre on finding employment, which isn’t necessarily relevant for people who are state pension age. Rehabilitation services may also offer distraction activities which aren’t suitable for older people living with long-term conditions or in poor health, for example sports.
• Or staff who may be ill-equipped to support older people with long-term health conditions, or disabilities, and similarly for those who require personal care, such as help with washing or toileting.
Sadly, the research found that ageist attitudes and assumptions also play a role. It found some professionals were deterred from providing support for older people as they felt they were ‘too old to change’, or because they believed that resources were better invested in helping younger adults.
“There’s lots of support for the under 25s. There’s beds for the kids. There’s nothing directed at my age at all. I think there will be even less as I grow older. I understand why. You’ve had 50 years and you’re f***** up. They don’t want to know.” Sarah, age 51.
“The thing is, you get to an age where you know that you’re destined to be alone.” Stuart, age 56.
“I contacted the GP as I have a list of things that I wanted to check in about, but they told me the only way was to go online. I can’t do that at the moment so there’s no way around it for me now.” Nehala, age 60.
Andrew Wileman, The Salvation Army’s Assistant Director of Older People’s Services, said: “Many older people who The Salvation Army works with have struggled to get the support they need whether that be accessing mental health support, help with debt, help to tackle addictions to drugs or alcohol, or assistance to find a permanent home. For many, this is exacerbated by financial difficulties which can mean they don’t have access to the internet or a phone. For some, the social isolation imposed by lockdowns due to the pandemic has made this even worse.
“Across the board more tailored services are needed to help older people who are socially excluded, local authorities and health services need to ensure their programmes and support is accessible and inclusive of all age groups. A one size fits all approach simply doesn’t work.”
The recommendations in the report call for:
• More tailored services to help older people who are experiencing social exclusion.
• For local authorities and health service systems providing services to improve their understanding of older populations.
• Stereotypes to be broken down to make sure services are accessible and inclusive of all age groups.
• To provide high quality information and advice so that older people with complex needs have access to independent information and advice.
• Offer greater financial support for groups approaching State Pension age who are unlikely to be able to work again.