Thabani Sithole, 73, from Streatham will appear as part of the BBC Lifeline Appeal on Sunday 13 November at 1:50pm on BBC1 to advocate for the work that Independent Age does for older people across the UK.

Sue Johnstone OBE, best known for her roles in Brookside and The Royle Family will be presenting the appeal.

Thabani, who spoke to the BBC about her experience with the Independent Age helpline, was born in South Africa and moved to the UK in 1990 to continue her career as a nurse. She retired in 2019 due to health issues and began working in commercials for some additional money. Unfortunately this work ended with the COVID-19 pandemic and due to knee operations, she hasn’t been able to restart it.  

Describing her situation,Thabani said:

“When lockdown hit, I had no income because all my work in commercials stopped. I got ill with shingles and my savings went down the drain like crazy.

“I thought I was comfortable but my state pension and small private pension wasn’t covering the mortgage. My pension dwindled and I was left with just my state pension.”

Thabani lives with her daughter who works in a school. She rang the Independent Age helpline because she and her daughter were struggling to make ends meet and feared they would lose their home. The charity helped Thabani claim Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance which has made a big difference to her monthly income.

While they still worry about the cost of living, Thabani described Independent Age’s support as her ‘prayers being answered’.

Thabani continued:

“Before I got the help from Independent Age it was a desperate, desperate time. We had so many problems – where to get food from, how to pay the bills, gas and electric going up and paying council tax too. The house was very cold – we wore extra clothes and covered ourselves in blankets.

“I called and pleaded with our mortgage provider and negotiated what we could pay, but it was never enough. They were threatening to repossess our home. I was so scared.

“I heard about Independent Age in 2021. The people on the phone were so lovely, they listened to me, didn’t judge and understood as I explained why I couldn’t work. They helped me claim Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance which was a big relief. My prayers were answered, they care so much. I wanted to jump up and down, but I couldn’t because of my bad knees!

“Independent Age made me feel like a normal person with a bright future ahead of me. They made me feel like I matter.

“Without Independent Age I don’t think I’d be here. I’d be out on the street. You look down on yourself and question yourself when you are struggling, could I have saved more? How did I end up in this position? I never knew times like this would come. Independent Age really helped me get my dignity back.”

Fran McSweeney, Head of National Services at Independent Age, said:

“We would like to thank Thabani for taking part in this appeal. In sharing her story with the public, Thabani will make a huge difference in raising awareness of the issues older people are facing, and letting people know that help is available through Independent Age.

“We hope the people of South London will get behind Thabani and tune in to the appeal!”

The appeal will be shown first on Sunday 13 November on BBC1 and then repeated on BBC 2 on Tuesday 15 November at 8:50am. The appeal will stay open for 3 weeks and will be available on the Lifeline website: BBC One - Lifeline, Independent Age

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