Precarious Old Age: revisiting human vulnerability in later life and ethical responses in policies and practices

Liz Lloyd, Amanda Grenier, Christopher Phillipson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


This paper argues that the re-shaping of old age consequent on increased life expectancy has shaped conditions of precariousness in later life (Butler 2006). These conditions are poorly understood and generally conceptualised purely within a bio-medical paradigm. In this paper it is argued that precarious lives in old age arise from both the long-term health conditions typically experienced in old age and the socio-economic and cultural contexts in which older people live. The categorisation of older people as ‘frail’, particularly in relation to dementia, has facilitated a political preoccupation with the location older people as objects of welfare and the cost of care, thus exacerbating their precarious position (Phillipson 2015, Grenier 2012).
The paper points to the ways in which the contemporary context of austerity has exacerbated precariousness in later life, not only by worsening older people’s living conditions but also by reinforcing perceptions of old age as a period of frailty and failure. Examples from two empirical research projects (Maintaining Dignity in Later Life and Healthy Ageing in Residential Places – see Lloyd et al 2014a, Lloyd et al 2014b) are used to illustrate how individuals experience such conditions.
It is argued that a fundamental shift is required in contemporary understanding of precarious life in old age as well as in the ideological basis upon which support for older people with long-term conditions is conceived and organised. The paper concludes with suggestions for an ethical response to conditions of precariousness, in later life which takes account of their shared yet unequally experienced nature.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthics and Social Welfare Journal
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016
EventEthics and Social Welfare in Hard Times - Friends House, Euston Road , London, United Kingdom
Duration: 1 Sept 20162 Sept 2016


ConferenceEthics and Social Welfare in Hard Times
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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