The stark reality of living in poverty in later life in Scotland has been revealed, with a new report that details how older people are going without essentials including food and heating. 

Independent Age, the national older person’s charity, is calling for an ‘urgent’ focus on pensioner poverty in Scotland, as the cost of living crisis plunges even more older people into financial hardship.  

The charity today (22nd February 2023) launches ‘Not enough to live on’: Pensioner Poverty in Scotland, which sets out the devastating experience of poverty for those over 65. 

According to the latest data, one in seven, or 150,000 older people, live in poverty in Scotland. This number has increased by 25% since 20121

Claire Donaghy, Head of Scotland at Independent Age said: “Older people in Scotland desperately need action to stop their financial insecurity. Today, our report lays out in black and white the upsetting truth of living below the poverty line as a pensioner. 

“No one dreams of a later life plagued by anxiety about unexpected bills and being forced to cut down on food and sit in the cold. But this is now the reality for many older people in Scotland. The cost of living crisis has taken them to breaking point.”  

Research from the charity shows that huge numbers of people over 65 in financial hardship are now cutting back on essentials. Polling from November 2022 of 531 adults over 65 in Scotland showed that in households with incomes less than £20,000 per year, 61% of older people are cutting back on food and drink2. 74% are cutting back on heating, despite extreme cold temperatures felt across the country this winter3

For the report, the charity interviewed 38 people over 65 on a low income to understand the experience of pensioner poverty in Scotland. The in-depth interviews uncovered struggles across three central themes of income, costs and housing.   


63% of interviewees agreed that managing money was a concern4. Over half (53%) of older people said that their current income was reducing their quality of life5

One person said that the State Pension was “not enough to live on” (p.12) whilst another said that it “doesn’t cover everything” (p.12). Many expressed frustration with the level of income older people are expected to live on and lack of financial support available from the government (p.13).  


Polling showed that 69% of households with people aged over 65, and an income of less than £20,000 per year, are concerned they won’t be able to pay for electric in the next six months6. 65% worried they won’t be able to pay for gas over the same period7. Paying for food is also a concern, with 55% of those over 65 on a low income worried they won’t be able to pay for food and drink in the next 6 months8

The interviews found there is anxiety about the rising costs of all essentials. Many spoke about the large energy bill increases they were experiencing. One said “I just got my estimated bill for next year. Went from £150 a month to £615 a month… that’s basically all my earnings” (p.17). Another said they “get anxious” when they put on the heating and feel “so envious of somebody that can be warm” (p.19). Another said their gas and electricity bill “concerns me the most. That’s gone up from £150 a month to £300 (p. 17).”  

Many are now being forced to cut their spending on food. One man who has long term mental and physical health conditions has to use a food bank and is unable to afford the healthier foods that are recommended by his doctor (p. 27). One interviewee said she was drinking coffee instead of feeding herself to afford to have her grandchildren for supper once a fortnight (p. 37).  


Older people across Scotland on a low income are terrified of unexpected housing costs they can’t afford (p. 21). One interviewee said “My biggest fear is that my washing machine… or fridge breaks down or anything like that. I would just have to borrow money… and that’s something I’ve never done in my life. Never.” (p. 21).  One interviewee spoke of not feeling able to get rid of an Artex ceiling over two bedrooms that she suspected had asbestos in it due to the cost (p. 35).  

Energy efficiency was a known issue for many interviewees. One said “It’s just impossible to keep warm. No matter how much I spend, it never gets warm… it’s an old house… there’s more draughts” (p. 21). 


Independent Age is calling for urgent action to bring down pensioner poverty and has specific recommendations for doing this in Scotland, which include that the Scottish Government:  

  • Produce a long-term written strategy for reducing pensioner poverty which includes statutory targets (p. 40).  

  • Establish an Older People’s Commissioner for Scotland to amplify older people’s voices and champion their interests (p. 40).   

  • Take action to address the immediate cost of living crisis on older people, including targeted promotion of the Scottish Welfare Fund, which although a lifeline for those in need of household goods and appliances, was mentioned by none of the interviewees implying awareness of the resource it is not reaching those it should be helping (p. 40).  

Claire Donaghy, Head of Scotland at Independent Age said: “If the Scottish Government is serious about making Scotland the best place in the world to grow old, the first steps it can take is committing to implementing the recommendations in our report. This must include the development of a pensioner poverty strategy, the creation of an Older People’s Commissioner and addressing the immediate cost of living crisis.  

“A warm home, being able to eat properly and a decent level of wellbeing are essential for the health and quality of life of all older people in Scotland, and should be a human right for all of us as we age.”  

Case studies 

While the 38 interviewees wish to remain anonymous, the stories in the report can be used under the names given in the report. Further details of where to find other case studies in the report are in the notes to editor.  

Eddie, in his late 60s struggles with his mental and physical health and a recent heart attack has further exacerbated this. The attack resulted in a loss of earnings and he is struggling to afford the healthier foods which have been recommended to him by a doctor – causing him further anxiety. Rising food costs mean Eddie and his wife must be very careful with what they spend and are using a food bank fortnightly to top up their food shop. He said “We don’t like going every week… it actually feels embarrassing.” (p. 29) He also said that due to the cost he and his wife are unable to go for a meal leaving him in “the same place all the time, which makes my anxiety and depression worse.” (p. 30) 


- ENDS - 


Notes to editor 


People participated in the research through a combination of telephone and in-person discussions. Face-to-face interviews were enabled by partner organisations, which offered to host confidential interviews and raised awareness of the research to older people using their services. Interviews took place from late September to early November 2022. In this period, there was some political instability with a change of prime minister and, at times, this context was reflected in conversations about government support. This was also during a time when energy companies and the UK and Scottish governments were communicating about increasing costs of energy. 


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 531 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st - 24th November 2022.   

The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scotland adults (aged 65+). 

Statistics References 

1 – p. 5 

2 – p. 30 

3 – p. 30 

4 – p. 11 

5 – p. 24 

6 – p. 16 

7 – p. 16 

8 – p. 16 

The list of full recommendations from Independent Age can be found from page 39 


Case Studies  

P. 19 – Heather’s story 

P. 22 – Andy’s story 

P. 24 – Eddie’s story 

P. 33 - Isobel’s story  

P. 37 – Linda’s story 

For media enquiries please contact  

Phoebe Watkins, Media and PR Officer 


M: 07732 691 463 


Amy Dodge, Media and Communications Manager 



M: 07732 691 466 

About Independent Age 

We offer regular friendly contact, a strong campaigning voice and free, impartial advice on the issues that matter to older people: care and support, money and benefits, health and mobility. A charity founded over 150 years ago, we are independent so older people can be too. 

For more information, visit our website

Arrange to speak to one of our advisers for free and confidential advice and information. Freephone 0800 319 6789 or email

To make a donation or find out more about how you can support the work of Independent Age and help older people stay independent, please visit  

Share this article

Print this page