Food might be the only flexible outgoing that can be cut back on in a financial emergency, warns Age UK
Nearly one in three over-60s have cut back on buying food which means they could be going hungry to make ends meet, new research reveals.
Food and non-alcoholic drinks are taking up a bigger portion of pensioners’ income after tax, and it might be the only flexible outgoing that can be cut back on in a financial emergency, according to Age UK.
The charity says malnutrition has long been problem for many older people as issues like isolation, disability and common health problems can all impact on their appetite or ability to eat or prepare food.
‘Typically lack of funds was not the major factor, but sadly the picture is changing and poverty is now clearly playing a much bigger part in some older people going without the nourishment they need,’ it warns.
Its survey in the past few months found 29 per cent of over-60s in the UK, the equivalent of 4.2 million people, are buying less food and 39 per cent are worried about being able to afford food.
Some 40 per cent of over-60s who live in a household with an income of less than £20,000 are cutting back on food.
> What does the Government say? Find out below
Age UK says it is particularly concerned about three groups of older people:
– Those living on a low income who are not claiming the extra financial support to which they are entitled
– Others whose savings have helped them to get by so far, but whose rainy day fund has now run out
– Ill or disabled pensioners who face higher costs, for example because they need to use their washing machine every day due to incontinence.
It polled 1,200 over-60s in August and September, and responses were weighted to be representative of this age group across the UK.
A separate Age UK study revealed the squeeze on household budgets as food price rises have outstripped pensioner incomes.
It analysed Office for National Statistics data on living costs for 2021-22, and used inflation figures since then to work out what the median pensioner household – those made up only of over-65s – spends on food.
This found that they are spending around £50 a week on food and non-alcoholic beverages today, or 16.4 per cent of their after-tax household income.
That compares with £38 in 2021, or 13.7 per cent of their after-tax household income, and is equivalent to £640 more a year since the start of the cost of living crisis.
Age UK also cited a recent YouGov poll that found that 36 per cent of people aged 65-plus in Great Britain describe their financial situation as worse than a year ago, with a further 14 per cent saying it continues to be as bad as last year.
Age UK is calling on the Government to help older people on low incomes by:
– Extending cost of living payments beyond spring 2024
– Expanding eligibility for these payments to those on housing benefit and those eligible for council tax reductions
– Increasing the Household Support Fund to help those who just miss out on cost of living payments and pension credit
– Honouring their state pension triple lock promise, and raising benefits in line with inflation.
Age UK is also concerned that many people who are eligible for pension credit, which tops up the income of the poorest pensioners, miss out on it.
The Government recently launched its latest campaign urging people to claim pension credit. It is also trialling ‘invitation to claim’ letters, which are being sent to older people living in households receiving housing benefit across 10 local authorities .
But Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, says: ‘It is a travesty that in the last year for which official figures are available, 2019-2020, a whopping £2.4billion of pension credit and housing benefit went unclaimed by older people in Great Britain.
‘Longer term, there’s a compelling case for fundamental reform of these benefits, so older people receive them automatically rather than having to fill in a complicated form.’
‘It’s really worrying to discover from our research that so many older people are already cutting back on their food shopping, before winter even arrives and they need to run their heating,’ adds Abrahams.
‘Once it gets colder their costs will substantially rise, so what will they do then? We fear the answer is that many will feel they have no choice but to ration their food and other groceries, potentially putting their health at risk.
‘To avoid the nightmarish spectre of hunger spreading among older people this winter and next spring, the Government needs to direct more targeted financial support to those who need it the most.
‘They should also do more to support those whose incomes take them just above the line, and others whose incomes look adequate on paper but whose living costs are especially high because of their ill health or disability. All these groups need more help.’
What does the Government say?
‘There are 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty than in 2009/10 and the government remains committed to protecting pensioners,’ says a spokesperson.
‘That is why we made the biggest state pension increase in history this year as well as boosting pension credit – worth around £3,500 a year for those on the lowest incomes.
‘On top of this, pensioners most in need will receive up to £600 this winter to help with essential costs and we are bearing down on inflation to make everyone’s money go further.’
The Government has taken the following measures to help poorer pensioners:
– The state pension and pension credit rose by 10.1 per cent last April
– The Household Support Fund, worth over £2 billion, is helping people with essential costs such as food and energy.
– Pension credit take-up in Britain is at its highest level since 2010
– The Government is committed to the state pension triple lock, which increases payments by the highest of inflation, wage growth or 2,5 per cent each year.
The Government will carry out a statutory annual review of benefits and state pensions in the autumn, using the most recent data available.
Content source – www.soundhealthandlastingwealth.com