June 18, 2011

UK: More join the 'sandwich generation', caring for both their children and parents

LONDON, England / The Guardian / Work:Life / June 18, 2011

Stuck in the middleMore people are joining the 'sandwich generation', caring for both their children and parents.
Alison Clements reports

Many from the 'sandwich generation' are now caring for both their children
and parents, often leading to financial strain. Photograph: Greg Funnell

The days when people's late 40s and early 50s were their comfortable times to look forward to (children grown up; money in the bank) seem to be eroding. With first-time parents getting older (the average age for starting a family is now nearly 30, the highest age since 1938), and the parents of these parents living longer, there is now a growing "sandwich generation" that simultaneously support elderly parents and dependent children.

Estimates suggest there are more than 250,000 sandwich-generation couples. And, more than any other group, the pressure is on them to keep earning and keep healthy, in order to fund the care and lifestyle of loved ones. And this number will continue to rise. In the past 25 years, the number of over-65s has grown by 1.7 million. By 2034, 23% of the UK population is projected to be aged 65 and over, up from 17% today.

Life in the middle can be expensive and exhausting. Research by Helping Hands, a company that provides live-in care for elderly people, found that of the 3,000 sandwich generation adults they recently questioned, 65% were struggling to balance the care needs of both the oldest and the youngest generations. Some 35% admitted to feeling overwhelmed by the pressures they faced, and 20% said their own health was suffering.

"While the needs of your children are more clearly defined, elderly care always crops up as an emergency situation and is rarely planned for," says Tim Lee, CEO of Helping Hands. "Some come to us completely frazzled by the experience of a cherished parent suddenly suffering a stroke, or being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. We see particular problems when individuals still have children at home. Their time and energy is squeezed to the limit."

While the majority of elderly people have made provision for their care, or qualify for state help, Lee calculates that for around 15% of cases Helping Hands deals with, the son or daughter will be paying for the care arrangements – about £750 a week for a live-in carer. In many cases, these costs were not planned for and suddenly become part of the family budget. A sandwich-generation study by Engage Mutual Assurance, of 1,065 British people aged 45-65, found that 22% had taken out a loan to subsidise family members and 17% had taken a second job

To continue reading, click here
© Guardian News and Media Limited