Half of older people living on the breadline

Nia Williams

April 14, 2011

The research from Age UK also found that one in ten admitted they are finding it difficult or really struggling.

The survey of over 1,200 over 60s also revealed that nearly one in five pensioners had cut back on their heating over the winter months in order to make ends meet. This is particularly worrying in the face of the extra 25,000 older people dying during the winter months in recent years. Among poorer pensioners, one in five say they are going out less in order to save money, and over a third are buying cheaper or less food.

These results highlight the importance of Age UK’s ‘More Money in Your Pocket’ campaign – which kicks off today – encouraging people in later life to claim the benefits they are entitled to. As much as £5.4 billion in pensioner benefits goes unclaimed each year, often because people are unaware of the help which is available. Encouraging people to claim their benefits is a key part of Age UK’s Let’s Talk Money campaign, which is helping people maximise their income in retirement and reduce poverty.

Shockingly one in ten pensioners report having outstanding debts such as a mortgage, credit card or bank loan, with levels of debt being higher among younger pensioners. These figures are slightly higher than results from a similar survey carried out in 2008, which showed one in twelve pensioners were in debt. This is a worrying indication of the lengths to which many older people are going to stay afloat financially.

The majority of pensioners live on low to middle incomes and many have been hit hard by the rising cost of food, which has shot up by 6.2% and energy which has increased by 4.2% over the last year. Pensioners are hit particularly hard by climbing inflation rates because they spend a larger percentage of their budget on food and fuel.

Despite just under half of all pensioners being entitled to pension credit – a top up for people on low incomes – a third of people don’t claim it. Our survey shows that overall only 22% are claiming it although this rises to just under half for poorer pensioners. The vast majority of people surveyed said that claiming pensioner benefits had improved their quality of life or helped them worry less about making ends meet.

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK’s charity director, commented: “At a time when so many people are struggling financially, it is unacceptable that vital benefits are failing to reach some of the poorest and most vulnerable older people in our society. This is money that could make a huge difference to people’s quality of life.

“Ultimately the best way to ensure that people receive the benefits they are entitled to is for them to be paid automatically. But in the meantime, the evidence shows that clear, independent information and advice and face-to-face communication are key to improving the take-up of benefits. The ‘More Money in Your Pocket’ campaign is working to break down the barriers that stop older people claiming benefits such as people not realising that they are entitled to the money or feeling reluctant to claim.”

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