Warning of ‘missed’ vulnerable older people during lockdown

A recent survey has found that people aged 70 and over have been mostly well-supported during lockdown by family, friends and neighbours. However, there seems to be a small but vulnerable group of older people whose daily living needs are not being met.

Among older people who live alone and have difficulties with personal care tasks, 17% did not receive any informal help from family, friends or neighbours during the pandemic crisis.

A research team from the ESRC Centre for Population Change and the Centre for Research on Ageing at the University of Southampton analysed new data from the Understanding Society Covid-19 survey collected in April 2020. The results were then linked to Understanding Society data collected in 2018/19.

Led by Professor Maria Evandrou, the team examined the extent of informal support or care received by individuals aged 70 and over in the first four weeks of lockdown from family, neighbours or friends not living in the same household. This was then compared with the support they received prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Key findings 

- In the first four weeks of lockdown, for older people aged 70 and over, who they lived with influenced how likely they were to get informal care
(informal care is care that is provided without any payment).
- Two-thirds (67%) of all survey respondents aged 70 and over received support from family, neighbours or friends who did not live in the same household.
- One in five people aged 70 and over living alone did not receive any support from informal sources outside their household.
- Older people who were most in need, i.e. living alone and reporting need for help, were more likely to receive help than those reporting need and living with others.
- However, 17% of older people living alone who reported two or more difficulties with personal care tasks did not receive any external informal assistance.

The research distinguishes between different types of households, as who an older person lives with is likely to make a difference to the support received. Given the guidance not to leave home and not let others into the household, those older people living alone or living only with a partner also aged 70 plus are more likely to be particularly vulnerable.

Professor Evandrou said: “The good news is that these research results indicate that the majority of older people received support from the wider community. During the crisis, older people received an increased level of help from existing caregivers or received support from new caregivers. This was especially the case for those living alone or with a partner also aged 70 and over.”

She continues: “Previous research has shown that statutory social services are being increasingly concentrated on those with the highest level of need. There is a danger that, during the pandemic, those older people with more moderate needs may slip under the radar of the formal safety net.

“Family, friends and neighbours who would usually provide care have been unable to visit during lockdown. So, there may be a small but vulnerable group of incapacitated older people whose needs for daily living are not being met. This, in turn, may contribute to the continued unmet need for social care. It could also manifest itself in falls and other unanticipated visits to hospital A&E, negating the benefits of shielding during lockdown.”

For further information on this study, read the research team’s papers:

Older and home alone in lockdown: how has support from family, friends and neighbours changed? (CPC Policy Briefing 52)
Older and ‘staying at home’ during lockdown: informal care receipt during the COVID-19 pandemic amongst people aged 70 and over in the UK (SocArXiv)