On the homepage of Tonic Housing’s website we ask the simple question: Who will care for you when you get older? At the end of an 18-month research & development phase, we feel that the answer to this question is uncertain for the majority of the UK’s more than 1 million older LGBT+ people and causes particular anxiety for some.
The data currently available presents a compelling image of a community where individuals are more likely to be single and live alone, and are therefore much more dependent on external services as they get older. Added to this, many of them have experienced isolation and prejudice throughout much of their adult lives. Whether within family, the workplace, or the communities where they live, reinforcing that sense of “outsider status” felt when accessing care or support services. Incredibly, a Stonewall/YouGov survey (2010) reveals that 45% of older LGBT+ people have felt discriminated against when accessing social services, and 73% of older LGBT+ people are anxious about disclosing their sexuality to care staff.
Of course we recognise that there are multiple care agencies which work hard to ensure that the service provided is free from any discrimination. However, with pressure on ever-tightening budgets, unacceptable behavior and practices can develop. I was told of one such example by the Chair of Tonic Housing, Geoff Pine, whose late partner, Jamie, had been receiving care visits 3 times per day.
“In general, Jamie was in reasonable spirits most of the time for someone who was terminally ill although naturally not the happiest of pixies! However, I noticed that there was a marked change in his general behaviour and demeanour over a period of a few weeks. He became increasingly quiet and would weep without any apparent provocation or cause. I asked him if anything was bothering him. Initially he didn’t say anything but eventually he said he was upset by the woman who came in to wash him in the mornings after we had had breakfast and I had gone to work. He told me that every morning she would come in, wash him and then before she left she would kneel at the bottom of his bed and pray for his ‘condemned soul’ because of his gay lifestyle. I immediately phoned the care provider and the woman did not come back. It did however have a lingering effect on him until he died about 5 months later.”
Tonic Housing, supported by five of the UK’s leading trusts and foundations, now has a clear vision and response to challenges such as the one experienced so tragically by Jamie. Currently we are focused on identifying the right building plot in London for the Tonic Centre, a landmark retirement community which will become known for its innovative approach to how people grow older together, a national demonstration project from which others may learn through a later advocacy campaign. Concurrently, we’re looking to develop a new LGBT+ sensitive care agency which will meet the needs of our residents and those of the surrounding community. We have spoken to four different care agencies to date, exploring possible joint venture partnerships and franchises, all of whom recognized some of the challenges they faced in winning the confidence of the LGBT+ community. We hope to conclude our exploratory discussions with care agencies by the end of 2017 and would welcome contact with care professionals and existing agencies which may be looking to expand their current delivery into a significant and untapped new market.
James Greenshields is one of the Founding Directors of Tonic Housing www.tonichousing.org.uk. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org