Britain’s lesbian, gay and bisexual population are far more likely to end up isolated and having less contact with family members during their old age, a first of its kind YouGov survey commissioned by the campaign group Stonewall has found.
The survey carried out in 2010, asked 1,050 heterosexual and 1,036 LGB people over the age of 55 a variety of questions on how they feel about getting older and their prospects of receiving adequate help. Now a report from Stonewall, titled Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual People in Later Life, lays out the findings and warns that there is a care “time bomb” waiting for LGB elders in the UK.
For instance, the research showed that older gay and bisexual men are around three times more likely to be single than their heterosexual counterparts, and with significantly less LGBs having children their support network is further reduced. In total, 41% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people over 55 reported living alone compared with 28% of heterosexual people.
The report says this is compounded by the fact that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are almost half as likely to regularly see their biological family. In fact, less than a quarter reported seeing family members at least once a week, compared to more than half of heterosexuals, with just 8% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people over 55 saying they see their family members more than once a week, compared to 21% of heterosexual people.
As such, the report found that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are forced to rely more heavily on formal social care. Yet, while they are nearly twice as likely to need GP and social service care than heterosexuals, over half say they are not confident that social care services will meet their needs.
Indeed, 72% of LGB respondents said they were worried about needing care later in life, with 62% of heterosexual people reporting similar concerns. Half of LGB respondents said they were worried about their housing situation, compared with 39% of heterosexuals, while 69% of LGBs said they had concerns over their health. This is compared with 59% of heterosexual people reporting similar concerns.
This consistent elevation in concerns surrounding LGB elder care means that the Department of Health and front line services need to take action, says Ben Summerskill of Stonewall to the Guardian:
“For the first time this generation of ageing gay people fully expects to be treated with respect by both public and commercial service providers,” Summerskill said.
“They want to be able to share a room in an old people’s home or to be supported through their partner’s terminal illness just like anyone else.”
Summerskill expressed concern that Britain’s care system failed to recognise that not all couples were the same.
“We’re facing a care time bomb of institutional ignorance about what a community that makes a £40bn a year contribution to public services will soon – quite properly – be demanding.”
The report offers several recommendations to elder care service providers and the Department of Health, for instance warning against the assumption that all patients are heterosexual and therein running the risk of overlooking the vulnerability that being an LGB elder currently carries.
The recommendations also stress the importance of GPs ensuring that older lesbian, gay and bisexual patients have designated a “next-of-kin” and who should be given decision making power in the event they’re unable to make health care decisions for themselves, and that lesbian, gay and bisexual care home residents should be given opportunities to socialize and meet other lesbian, gay and bisexual people to help them maintain social support networks.