In my contribution to the 2018 All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger Report on ‘Hidden Hunger and Malnutrition in the Elderly’, I was quoted as saying:
‘elderly recipients (of food aid) are more likely to suffer food crisis because of an accumulated poverty rather than the one-off money crisis that younger clients predominantly tend to suffer from’.
Is this still the case and, if so, what is the prognosis for older people going forward?
Food poverty on the rise
Our evidence suggests that food poverty is on the rise in my neck of the woods – Coventry. Distributions of food vouchers rose by 11.2% in the last two years. More specifically, the proportion of those in receipt of food vouchers over 50 and over 60 years of age both rose (from 26% to 31% for over 50s and from 6% to 9% for the over 60s) despite well-known barriers to older people accessing our services. ‘Hidden Hunger’ is becoming less hidden. But why are more older people finding themselves in food crisis?
Our experiences tell us that food crisis, in general terms, is triggered by poverty and social isolation and made worse by disability and mobility issues. Some say each of these factors is increasing among older communities.
Debt enquiries dealt with by advisers at Coventry Citizens Advice rose by 47% between 2017-18 and 2018-19, and the proportion attributed to the over 50s and over 60s both rose. Benefits enquiries also rose, by 14%, during this period. However, the number of enquiries about Pension Credit (a means tested benefit for older clients) and Attendance Allowance (the primary disability benefit for older clients) rose by 31% and 42% respectively. More older clients are coming to us with benefits and debts issues.
Steps in the right direction?
But there has been a response to the identification of ‘elderly hunger’ in the APPG Report. Locally, for example, Groundwork West Midlands have been delivering Cook Together Eat Together (CTET). This is a three year programme, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, which is responding directly to the twin issues of food poverty and social isolation for those 55 and over.
So, there has been movement in a positive direction. Recent reports even suggest that increased employment among ‘pre-retirees’ and the so-called ‘triple lock’ on pensioner benefit entitlements mean that the inter-generational balance between the younger and older populations needs to be re-set more in favour of the former.
But more factors, some intangible, are still working against older people. They include:
- the increased digitalisation of welfare benefits affecting benefit take-up rates;
- cuts and confusion in adult health and social care provision leaving older people more isolated;
- increasing community stress levels from reduced support from local authorities and volunteer groups;
- imminent increases in pensioner poverty – witness recent changes to Pension Credit entitlement; and
- growing financial exclusion among older people – driven mainly by digital exclusion.
Unfortunately, the factors which led me to my 2018 conclusions remain in place and have, evidence would suggest, worsened. While younger working age cohorts are subject to immediate impacts from a sudden loss of employment, illness or relationship breakdown, older people continue to be affected by numerous factors driving a gradual decline in income, a reduction in social support and a relative increase in essential expenditures.
Poverty and isolation among older people remains an avoidable outcome of accumulated experiences.
So, what can be done? If projects such as that delivered by Groundworks West Midlands, and others, are to prosper then more needs to be done at all levels: to acknowledge the drivers of poverty and isolation among older people; to redesign the wider ‘welfare state’ to fit those who need it most; and to invest in the people and programmes best able to reach effectively those in most need.
Edward Hodson is a Research & Campaigns Coordinator at Coventry Citizens Advice.
Have you been affected by any of these issues?
If you have been affected by any of the issues described in this blog, or simply need someone to reach out to, you can call Independent Age’s freephone Helpline for information and advice on 0800 319 6789.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age.
 For more on this project visit http://www.cookandeatwell.co.uk/cook-together-eat-together .