1 in 3 older women say they can’t afford a £25 increase in their expenses per month, according to new research from national older person’s charity Independent Age.
This research, conducted in addition to around 20 in-depth interviews with people in later life living in financial hardship, found that while both men and women over 65 reported cutting back in key areas, women are feeling the effects of the cost of living crisis more than men in many areas including:
- 51% of women compared to 40% of men are reducing their spend on heating
- 32% of women are cutting down their food spend compared to 25% of men
- 44% of women are spending less on clothes or footwear compared to 26% of men.
Independent Age’s research also revealed that 55% of older women, compared to 44% of men, are having to cut back on their general spending compared to Spring 2021.
In October the energy price cap is projected by some to reach over £3,200 per year. For older people with limited ways to increase their income, Independent Age is clear that their findings show an increasing number of older people are at a budgetary crisis point.
Morgan Vine, Head of Policy and Influencing at Independent Age says: “The situation for many older people has either already reached crisis point or isn’t far off. We know that cutting back on energy costs or food can be detrimental to older people’s health, especially in the long term, so we’re very concerned by what we’re hearing.
“While we know the picture is bleak for many people at the moment, our research shows that some groups are more likely to be affected by the crisis. Older women are one of these, and single older women especially. We already know that women live an average of three and a half years longer than men, so are having to make their already smaller pensions stretch further.
“The Government’s recent emergency payments were very welcome, but will not be enough for an increasing number of older people on the edge. These payments are at best short-term sticking plasters, and may not even be sufficient for that. The Department for Work and Pensions must urgently create a long-term poverty strategy which considers the diverse needs of all older people.
“This summer, the Government must not allow itself to become too distracted by the Conservative leadership campaign. Politicians know that further big bill rises are coming down the tracks in October and again in January. They must plan ahead to ensure people at severe risk get the help they need to survive the winter ahead. The situation is desperate.”
Why are women more likely to struggle financially in retirement
Previous research has found that women over 65 are already more at risk of falling into financial hardship, with one in five older women living in poverty. For single women, this figure rises to 27%.
Independent Age says that high level of deprivation among women in later life is due to a number of factors relating to both the State Pension and private pensions.
Independent Age’s recent research speaking to older women illustrated the fact that many of them took time out of work to care for family, sometimes working part-time or in lower paid jobs during their career. This meant many were unable to build up full State Pension entitlements, resulting in a lower income in later life.
Women have faced other, often complex challenges with their State Pension. Many had to unexpectedly wait longer to receive their state pension (the ‘WASPI’ women), while others received a lower-than-expected pension due to having been signed up to the ‘married women’s stamp’ scheme decades ago.
There is also a significant and ongoing gender gap in private pension savings. Women tend to have lower pensions savings than men and therefore lower incomes in retirement. This reflects women’s experiences in the labour market – taking time out of work to provide care – as well as the financial impact of divorce, longer life expectancy and other factors. On average, women retiring today have around a third of the private pension pot of men.
Many older people on a low income could increase their income by accessing Pension Credit. Pension Credit is a form of financial support which ‘tops-up’ the income of people over state pension age who fall below an income threshold.
Pension Credit has been referred to as a ‘gateway benefit’ as even if those eligible only get one pound extra a week, they are entitled to a host of other benefits. These include a free TV licence for over 75s, council tax reduction, Housing Benefit and free NHS dental treatment and glasses. These extras could be worth up to £7,000.
Morgan Vine of Independent Age continues: “Our research has shown that 2 in 5 of those eligible for Pension Credit aren’t receiving it. This is a national tragedy. People who are entitled to Pension Credit, often need financial support but think they aren’t eligible, don’t want to take the money away from someone else or they simply haven’t heard of Pension Credit.
“We’re urgently calling for the Department of Work and Pensions to create a strategy outlining how they will increase Pension Credit uptake in the next five years. This must include funding that is ringfenced for local authorities so they can drive up take-up in their areas. It must also include plans for a strengthened and targeted awareness strategy, backed by research. This can’t come soon enough and should be an urgent priority before the winter, when things will only get worse.”
Through the in-depth interviews, Independent Age heard stories of women whose pensions have been badly affected by the increase in the state pension age. Georgina, 66, has lived alone since the death of her husband four years ago. When she was younger, she took time away from work to care for their children, before returning to work part time in a precarious role. Because of this, she has no private pension and only a small State Pension.
When her husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness, she took early retirement to spend time with him before he died. She planned to live off her savings before she could draw her State Pension. But, after she retired, she found out that the age she could claim her State Pension at had increased by five years.
This rapid change meant she used all her savings to survive until she reached State Pension age. She now lives off her small State Pension and has no savings to fall back on in the case of unexpected costs or expenses.