Research into practice

The first London Older People’s Assembly – a conference organised for older people by older people -Êwas held last November.

In support of this, the Greater London Authority has published research comparing data on London’s older population with those in other cities.1 It also looks at variations within the capital.

A third of London’s pensioners live on their own, and most who are older than 75 live alone. A quarter of pensioners live in low income households. Yet disability rates are lower, more participate in education and more are in work than in the rest of the country. London is increasingly multicultural, admittedly with wide variations between boroughs.

Health and life expectancy also vary widely. Male life expectancy at birth is less than 72 years in Newham, compared with more than 77 in more affluent Westminster. The gap for female life expectancy is smaller, but is still four years apart, ranging from 78 in Newham to 82 in Westminster. While inner and outer London boroughs may reflect a rough divide in resources, this document confirms that it is not wise to rely on this for detailed health and social care assessments.

Clearly as more data emerge from the 2001 census, London in particular will be able to see whether it has been able to halt the population drift of older people from the capital. At the moment, London’s older population may not be growing as quickly as that in most other areas; this does not mean that the needs of those remaining are necessarily fewer.

As the London overview demonstrates, the city’s older population will increasingly reflect its multiculturalism. A recent study of a first generation migrant group, the Greek Cypriot community, shows the value of exploring attitudes and expectations.2 The author’s interviews with older and younger family members reveal close relationships, particularly between mothers and daughters. She suggests that these may be especially strong among migrants who put the younger generation first.

Among current older members of the Greek Cypriot community there was much intimacy and mutual exchanges of assistance with their children. Help was provided with grandchildren’s care and adult children accompanied and spoke for their parents in English-speaking settings, especially in benefits and health encounters.

The research author believes it will be important to see what happens as this older generation develops more frailty in later life. At the moment there is little expectation of care from adult children but bonds are close and contact is frequent. This group of older people may have to manage the dilemma of not wanting to “burden” their children with their care but seek assurances that their families care about them.

Studies of older people are increasingly pointing to the importance of diversity and change within minority communities.

Jill Manthorpe is reader in community care at the University of Hull.

1 Greater London Authority, First London Older People’s Assembly: Older People in London – Facts and Figures, Greater London Authority, 2002. It can be downloaded free from   
2 H Cylwik,”Expectations of inter-generational reciprocity among older Greek Cypriot migrants in London”, Ageing & Society, 22 5 pp 599-614

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