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  • Author or Editor: Sarah Donnelly x
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This original collection explores how critical gerontology can make sense of old age inequalities to inform and improve social work research, policy and practice and empower older people.

With examples of practice-facing research, this book engages with key debates on age-related human rights and social justice issues. The critical and conceptual focus will expand the horizons of those who work with older people, addressing the current challenges, issues and opportunities that they face.

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A global transformation is taking place as the world’s population is rapidly ageing and, for the first time in history, most people can expect to live into their 60s and beyond. It is therefore understandable that one of the latest reports written by the Population Division of the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs begins with the following statement: According to World Population Prospects 2019 (United Nations, 2019), by 2050, 1 in 6 people in the world will be over the age of 65, up from 1 in 11 in 2019. All societies in the world are in the midst of this longevity revolution – some are at its early stages and some are more advanced. But all will pass through this extraordinary transition, in which the chance of surviving to age 65 rises from less than 50 per cent – as was the case in Sweden in the 1890s – to more than 90 per cent at present in countries with the highest life expectancy. What is more, the proportion of adult life spent beyond age 65 increased from less than a fifth in the 1960s to a quarter or more in most developed countries today.

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In many European countries a climate of austerity and cuts to health and social care budgets, alongside issues of population ageing, are creating particular challenges in the provision of services for older people in the community (Lymbery and Postle, 2015; Donnelley, Begley and O’Brien, 2018). The introduction of neoliberalism into many European welfare states since the late 1990s has also meant challenges in terms of the reorganisation of social work policy and practice (Milner, Myers and O’Byrne, 2020). Budget cuts have taken place and standardisation has become commonplace, which has impacted on changing legislative and policy drivers for gerontological social work (Ray, Bernard and Phillips, 2018). Social workers have a key role to play in ensuring the participation of all older people in assessments, care planning and decision making in ways that uphold human rights, autonomy and self-determination. The application of a critical gerontological lens is particularly important in a context of neoliberalism and scarce resources, where social workers are increasingly reliant on informal caregivers, mainly family members, to provide care and support to older people, creating challenges and ethical dilemmas in practice situations.

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