One in four older people (24%) had to rely on savings last winter because their income wasn’t enough to cover living costs, according to new research by the older people’s financial hardship charity Independent Age. This increased to one in three (33%) for older people with a low household income (under £20,000).

As another winter approaches and high costs continue, the charity warns that older people’s ability to cope this year could be further reduced as older people have already seen their savings diminish.  

Of the 24% of all respondents that had to use savings:

  • 35% said they used a significant amount
  • 7% used all or almost all of their savings
  • 10% used most
  • 58% had to use more than what they considered to be a small amount

Worryingly, 6% of all respondents didn’t have any savings to fall back on when they were struggling to pay bills. This increased to 10% for older people with an income of less than £20,000. The charity hears from older people every day in this situation who are making dangerous cuts to cover their costs, and in some cases, getting into debt. 


Joanna Elson CBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said:

“With 2.1 million older people already living in poverty last winter, callers to our helpline were frightened, and many didn’t have savings to support themselves. We heard from people who  were sleeping in coats and hats because they couldn’t afford to turn the heating on; one older person even resorted to eating dog food to save money. We also heard from people who had worked all their life and done their best to save, yet were reaching out for help for the first time as the financial strain became too much.

“This upcoming winter has the potential to be even more challenging, and from our research we now know many older people were forced to deplete their savings last year just to get by. Without this safety net to fall back on, many more older people may be forced into making drastic, and in some cases, dangerous cutbacks because they don’t have enough money to cover the essentials. For others, it could mean they fall into poverty, which is a very worrying prospect.”

The YouGov poll of 2,252 people aged 65 and over revealed just how tough last winter was for many in later life, with 15% of all respondents and 25% of respondents on a low income saying they could only just afford their essentials and often struggled to make ends meet.

The polling laid bare the anxiety felt by many older people. 35% of all respondents said they are worried about their financial situation. When asked about what areas of household spending are causing concern, energy costs were the overwhelming contributor at 82%, followed by council tax at 34%, food at 33%, household repairs at 31% and medical costs at 17%.

Savings should also not be assumed in later life. 24% of all pensioners have no savings, and a further 19% have savings under £5,000. Among the poorest fifth of pensioners, 40% have no savings and 24% have less than £5,0002.


Gwenda, 84, from Middlesex, is supported by Independent Age. When asked about her worries for this winter, she said:

“Last year was very tough, I had to use a lot of savings just so I could afford to turn the heating on and have enough food. Everything started getting so expensive, and it hasn’t got any better recently.  

“I still have a bit of savings but I am worried I won’t for much longer. Something always crops up, my fridge just broke down so I had to get a replacement, that’s another big chunk of unexpected money gone. My radiators are also playing up so I need to fork out more money to get an engineer out. I have to spend the money as it has noticeably got colder in my house, but I am scared to put the heating on as it’s so expensive. I am worried that soon I won’t have enough money to cover everything.”  


Support this winter

Independent Age has launched its Christmas appeal ‘A Life Worth Living’. All money raised from the appeal will go towards the charity’s helpline, to enable them to support more older people in financial hardship. 

Poverty in later life has been rising since 2012. Independent Age is urging older people, or worried friends and family, to contact the charity’s helpline to check whether they are eligible for any additional support.

Joanna Elson continues:

“With the budgets of older people on a low income being stretched to breaking point, it has never been more important for people to check whether they are eligible for additional support.

“On average, we have been able to find callers to our helpline an additional £4,000 per year in unclaimed benefits like Pension Credit, Attendance Allowance and Housing Benefit. This money – which they are entitled to, but may well not know about - can be life changing. No one should face money worries alone.As a tough winter approaches, we are urging anyone who is struggling to reach out and call our free and confidential helpline. We have trained advisors ready to help.”

Independent Age’s free and confidential helpline number is 0800 319 6789. The team can also be reached on

Independent Age’s Christmas appeal ‘A Life Worth Living’ runs from Wednesday 15 November until Friday 12 January to raise vital funds for the charity’s helpline.  To find out more about the appeal and to donate, see Donate to Independent Age


Additional case study

Thabani Sithole, 74, is a retired nurse who lives in London. Thabani was forced to retire from her nursing career on health grounds and started commercial work instead, but this stopped due to the pandemic and she found herself struggling financially. The charity identified an additional £800 per month that Thabani was entitled to. She 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.

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. In total, the charity helped me claim £800 a month that I didn’t know I was entitled to. My prayers were answered.

“Independent Age gave me my dignity back. Without them, I think I’d be homeless.”


- ENDS -


Notes to editor

For media enquiries please contact

Amy Dodge, Media Communications Manager at Independent Age, 07732 691466,

Out of hours: 07545 209589




  1. All figures unless otherwise stated are from a nationally and politically representative poll of people aged 65 and over in Great Britain. The survey was carried out online by YouGov PLC and was completed by 2,252 people between the 1st and the 11th of September 2023. Figures have been weighted to ensure the sample is representative of the target population.
  2. Barnes, Matt., Financial resources and pensioner poverty: a quantitative analysis of the Understanding Society survey (Usoc). Department of Sociology at City, University of London (2022).


Photos of Gwenda, Thabani and Joanna are available on request.


A Life Worth Living

Independent Age’s Christmas appeal ‘A Life Worth Living’ runs from Wednesday 15 November until Friday 12 January to raise vital funds for the charity’s helpline. 

On average, Independent Age advisers have helped callers to the Helpline access more than £4,000 of unclaimed support. This money can be life-changing.

To find out more about the appeal and to donate, see Donate to Independent Age


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