NEW research for Age UK reveals almost a third (29 per cent) of over 60s, equivalent to 4.2 million people, have recently cut back on food or groceries to make ends meet, rising to 40 per cent of people aged 60+ living in a household with an income of £20k or lower.
Among the over-60s, polling for the Charity showed that when thinking about energy prices, 39 per cent of over 60s are worried about being able to afford food. Approaching winter, Age UK fears that pensioners will see their food budgets as the only flexible outgoing that can be cut back on, putting their health and wellbeing at risk.
Analysis also shows that the median pensioner household is spending around £50 per week on food and non-alcoholic beverages now compared to £38 in 2021, equivalent to £640 more per year since the start of the cost-of-living crisis.
Through Age UK’s ‘It Doesn’t Add Up’ campaign, the Charity is hearing distressing stories of older people making cuts in their everyday purchases, just to keep going. It is warning that unless further targeted support is offered to pensioners on low and modest incomes, some will be unable to weather the storm of continued high prices this winter.
Age UK is calling on the Government to help older people on low incomes by:
- Extending the Cost of Living Payments past Spring 2024.
- Expanding eligibility for Cost of Living payments to those on Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction.
- Increasing the Household Support Fund to help those just missing out on Cost of Living payments and Pension Credit.
- Honouring their Triple Lock promise on the State Pension and raising benefits in line with inflation.
Age UK is particularly concerned about three groups of older people: those living on a low income who are not claiming the extra financial support to which they are entitled; others whose modest savings have helped them to get by so far, but whose rainy day money has now run out; and those who face higher costs due to poor health and/or disabilities – for example, because they need to use their washing machine every day due to incontinence.
A recent YouGov poll found that more than one in three (36 per cent) people aged 65+ in Great Britain described their financial situation as being worse than a year ago, with a further one in seven (14 per cent) saying it continues to be as bad as last year. However, a third (34 per cent) of those eligible for Pension Credit are still missing out.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “It’s really worrying to discover from our research that so many older people are already cutting back on their food shopping, before winter even arrives and they need to run their heating. Once it gets colder their costs will substantially rise, so what will they do then? We fear the answer is that many will feel they have no choice but to ration their food and other groceries, potentially putting their health at risk.
“Malnutrition has long been a real problem for many older people. Loneliness, social isolation, disability and common health problems can all impact on older people’s appetite or ability to eat, access or prepare food. Typically, lack of funds was not the major factor, but sadly the picture is changing and poverty is now clearly playing a much bigger part in some older people going without the nourishment they need. What a sad position for our country to be in in the twenty-first century.
“To avoid the nightmarish spectre of hunger spreading among older people this winter and next spring, the Government needs to direct more targeted financial support to those who need it the most. They should also do more to support those whose incomes take them just above the line, and others whose incomes look adequate on paper but whose living costs are especially high because of their ill health or disability. All these groups need more help.
“Against this worrying context, it is a travesty that in the last year for which official figures are available, 2019-2020, a whopping £2.4 billion of Pension Credit and Housing Benefit went unclaimed by older people in Great Britain[x]. It is more important than ever that any older person who may be eligible for this extra support asks for it, and Age UK is here to help. However, longer term, there’s a compelling case for fundamental reform of these benefits, so older people receive them automatically rather than having to fill in a complicated form.”
* Age UK is urging older people living on a low income to contact them and check whether they are entitled to extra help. Use their free and anonymous Benefits Calculator which can provide an estimate of the benefits people could be entitled to here.
* Call the Age UK Advice Line on 0800 169 65 65, open 365 days a year, 8am – 7pm offering advice on a range of issues.
* Alternatively, visit their advice and support page here.
* Source: Age UK