The biggest social issue coming down the pipe

Charles 2 Comments

From an article in last Sunday’s Sunday Times: 

You may not be part of Britain’s 6.4m-strong army of carers yet, but if your parents are still alive, the dilemmas surrounding how to look after them as they get older will surely come.

Future Identities, a government report published last week, drew attention to what one expert calls the biggest issue we face as a society. Because women are giving birth later in life, the baby-boomers’ time-poor children are increasingly being hit with a double whammy: they are having to care for their own offspring and their elderly parents simultaneously.

Christopher Lambert’s story is typical of this so-called Sandwich Generation. “My son was five, I was 58 and my dad was 87. I’d divorced my wife and was living back with Dad as his main carer,” he says. “My son would come at weekends, which was supposed to be our ‘special time’. It was bedlam. Dad would be screaming, ‘Breakfast! Breakfast!’ My son would be yelling, ‘Dad, Dad, you said you’d . . .’

“I felt trapped in the middle, the only grown-up. I remember being out in the garden and Dad collapsing on the ground and my son wanting to play football and me saying, ‘Let’s play looking after Grandpa,’ and he’d say, ‘No, that’s boring and he’s smelly.’ I was at my wits’ end.”

The feelings of conflicted loyalties, divided between the parents who raised you and the children who need you to raise them, are so common that more than 4 in 10 Sandwich Generation carers are struggling to cope or at breaking point, according to a recent survey by Carers UK.

The problem will only intensify as the postwar baby-boomers enter their seventies — by 2022 there will be a 20% rise in over-75s (up from 5.1m to 6.6m). “People live longer now with severe disabilities who would have died years ago,” says Helena Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK. “A revolution is required in family care akin to the new understanding we have around working parents, as in the future so many of us will be juggling work around elder care and children.”

The forecast is also for the number of children aged under 16 to increase from 11.8m now to 13.2m in 2022, exacerbating the Sandwich Generation squeeze.

Source (£)


  1. Charles

    The task is basically impossible. But possibly the single most rewarding thing one could ever undertake. The prize? No unfinished business whatsoever. And a child who is unafraid. The real shift that needs to happen is in society’s view of both the carers, and the elderly (particularly with any form of dementia). Isolation is the most difficult hurdle to overcome in the West.

  2. Charles

    I am already there. Most of my adult life there has been an elderly with varying needs and yes, Sara, there is no unfinished business upon their death. The young below us have needs, the elderly above us have needs – I think we are the first generation to have it all – and yet have nothing……… where is that window of time for us to breathe or to enjoy what we have worked for? Sure, there is no guarantee of happiness or fun in life but it seems this generation, despite having better financial resources than ever before, are largely unable to enjoy the spoils because their sense of responsibility and the calls on their resources disallows it. The extreme alternative is to abandon and live with the guilt. Dementia is a different subject and has to be addressed in a different way.

    Either way it is most certainly a modern social dilemma which surely must be acknowledged and influenced by those who are most affected by it.

    My first port of call would be to address the many millions of elderly who live alone and rattle around in family sized houses. Of course they are going to be lonely once their mobility is limited…they will have to rely more and more on external support and family visits. A young family could be using that property which they truly no longer need the worry of. However, if they lived in a community designed for the needs of the elderly they would have all their needs met and loneliness would never have to be an issue. There are already lots of this type of development springing up – independent yet sheltered – clearly some better than others, but designed for those with and those without financial resources, which seems to me to be the absolute ideal template for old age. Not perfect but better than the current alternative.

    I’ll put my name down for that – who wants to worry about the maintenance of a house in old age – and who wants to sit waiting for their children to visit – knowing they are working long hours and have their own life problems? Not me.

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