Older and ‘staying at home’ during lockdown: analysis of informal care receipt during the COVID-19 pandemic amongst people aged 70 and over in the UK

Maria Evandrou, Jane Falkingham, Min Qin and Athina Vlachantoni

Centre for Population Change and Centre for Research on Ageing, University of Southampton

Link to paper: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/962dy/

On 23 March 2020 the UK went into lockdown in an unprecedented step to attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus. Government advice at that time was that all older people aged 70 and over should stay at home and avoid any contact with non-household members. This study uses new data from the Understanding Society COVID 19 survey collected in April 2020, linked to Understanding Society Wave 9 data collected in 2018/19, in order to examine the extent of support 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, and how that support had changed prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The research distinguishes between different types of households as, given with guidance not to leave home and not to let others into the household, those older people living alone or living only with a partner also aged 70 and above are more likely to be particularly vulnerable. The results highlight both positive news alongside causes for concern. The receipt of assistance with Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), especially shopping, has increased particularly among those living alone or with an older partner, reflecting the rise of volunteering and community action during this period. However, not all older people reported a rise, and the majority reported ‘no change’, in the support received. Moreover, amongst those older people reporting that they required support with at least one Activity of Daily Living (ADL) task prior to the pandemic, around one-quarter reported receiving no care from outside the household and one-in-ten of those with two or more ADL care needs reported receiving less help than previously. Although formal home care visits have continued during the pandemic to those who have been assessed by the local government to be in need, it is important to acknowledge that some older people risk not having the support they need.

Key points:

  • In the first four weeks of lockdown, for older people aged 70 and over, who they lived with influenced the likelihood of receiving informal care.
  • 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. Therefore, 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 continued unmet need for social care, or manifest itself in falls and other unanticipated visits to hospital A&E – negating the benefits of shielding during lockdown.

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