High costs across the board, from utilities and food to accessing the internet, are causing misery for older people across the country, warns national charity Independent Age.
Laid bare in their new report - The Hidden Two Million - is the profound impact high costs are having on those in later life living on the lowest income. Over half (54%) of those polled on a low income (less than £15,000 per year) say they are worried about the cost of electricity. When asked about heating, still over half (51%) were concerned about the utility’s affordability.
Food inflation has been at record highs the past year, and this has also had a harmful impact on those on the lowest incomes. Polling by Independent Age shows that a staggeringly high 39% of older people living on a low income are cutting back on their food spending, and over a third (36%) of the same group are concerned about covering their food bills for the next 6 months.
20% of single pensioners, and 7% of couple pensioners have no other source of income outside the State Pension and other benefits. Older people in financial hardship have shared with Independent Age that managing on a fixed income means, when faced with increased bills, the only options they feel they have to choose from are to cut back – which could harm physical and mental health - or go into debt.
It's not just big bills that are squeezing older people’s finances. Smaller but important bills, such as phone and broadband, are also causing money worries. New polling shows that 31% of older people with an income of less than £15,000 per year, are already cutting back on their phone usage to save money. While 29% of the same group are fearful of not being able to afford their broadband bill during the next 6 months. This is concerning as not being digitally connected can lead to social isolation and limits access to better deals only found online.
Independent Age is urging both the government and private sector to do the following in support of older people in financial hardship:
- Utility companies must provide and promote financial support to everyone on low incomes, including older people
- The Government should introduce national social tariffs across utilities such as energy and water
- The Government must ensure that everyone in financial hardship in later life receives the financial support they are entitled to.
Carole, 77, Durham, needs to use more heating because of her health. She said:
“The price of everything has gone up. I will go up and down the aisles at the supermarket looking at how the prices have changed. A pie one week was £2 and the next it was £3. The cereal I have for breakfast went from £5 – it’s a big box – to £6.50 over a couple of months, which is a lot. I have to decide whether I eat, or I heat the bungalow. With it being on the end, it is a cold bungalow. I wear lots of fleeces to keep myself warm, throws, blankets, thermal vests. I have to have the heating on a little bit high with my arthritis. I really struggle at times. I haven’t been on holiday in 14 years.”
John Palmer, Director of Policy and Communications said:
“These new figures are a stark reminder of just how frightening turbulent economic times can be for those on the lowest incomes. Millions of people in later life are being financially squeezed in every direction, this can be damaging to people’s mental and physical health. We hope that all utility companies will review their support for their most vulnerable customers, including older people, and ensure they are protected from future spikes in costs.
The hidden two million. The reality of financial hardship in later life
Independent Age launched its powerful report at an event yesterday to raise awareness of its renewed focus to support the more than 2 million older people living in financial hardship, and those hovering above the line in a financially precarious situation. The new research provides the latest insights into poverty in later life. The event also saw the premier of the charity’s new thought provoking film that amplifies the voices of older people currently living in financial hardship.
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Notes to editor
Copies of the full report and a link to the film available upon request.
1: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1150 adults aged 65 and over in England. Fieldwork was done 27th of April – 3rd of May 2023
2: Pensioners’ Incomes Series: Financial year 2021 to 2022, Department for Work and Pensions, 23 March 2023
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1150 adults aged 65 and over in England. Fieldwork was done 27th of April – 3rd of May 2023
Pensioners’ Incomes Series: Financial year 2021 to 2022, Department for Work and Pensions, 23 March 2023