Poorest pensioners are spending a FIFTH of income on energy bills, warns charity – as Chancellor unveils £300 payments for elderly in new £15bn cost of living aid package
- Elderly are using ‘desperate’ saving measure to pay bills, claims Age UK
- ‘I only shower once a fortnight and use the oven once a week,’ says one man
- We are eating less and less and ‘sometimes dinner is just biscuits,’ says a couple
- Plight of elderly in cost of living crisis revealed as Chancellor announces new aid
- Poorest on benefits to get £650, and 8m elderly households to receive £300
Many elderly people are using ‘desperate coping strategies’ and ‘extreme budgeting’ to pay essential bills, a charity has said.
The worst-off pensioners in England are now spending 18 per cent of their income on energy bills and millions are running out of cash for essentials, according to research by Age UK.
The warning came as the Chancellor announced a new £15billion package of measures to help people struggling to afford surging household bills.
Surging inflation: Elderly people are increasingly using ‘desperate coping strategies’ and ‘extreme budgeting’ to cover their essential costs, says Age UK
Rishi Sunak said there would be a £650 one-off cost of living payment for those on means-tested benefits including pension credit, and an extra £300 for eight million pensioner households to help them cover rising energy costs this winter.
There will also be £150 for disabled people, and a previously announced one-off universal payment to help with energy bills has been doubled to £400 and will no longer have to be repaid.
The Chancellor also reiterated the Government’s commitment to the triple lock, which increases the state pension by whatever is the highest of inflation, earnings growth or 2 per cent, but was scrapped last year.
The headline rate of inflation hit a 40-year high of 9 per cent last month, and energy watchdog Ofgem warned this week that the price cap on an average fuel bill is likely to jump £830 to £2,800 this October.
Age UK estimates that nearly one in three older households are now spending at least 10 per cent of their income on energy after the price cap rise in April, and warns there is ‘a real undercurrent of fear’ that the worst is yet to come.
In response to Sunak’s statement, charity director Caroline Abrahams said it was ‘pleased and relieved’ that the Government had recognised the extreme risks soaring inflation posed to the health and welfare of pensioners.
‘The extra support the Chancellor is bringing forward will make a difference and will protect most from the worst of the unprecedented surge in the cost of living they face.
Are you elderly and anxious about bills?
Age UK is urging older people to call its free national advice line on 0800 169 65 65.
Its staff will check you are receiving everything you are entitled to, including pension credit and attendance allowance.
Find out more here about pension credit, or call Age UK which will help you apply,
Age UK adds that energy providers have a duty to offer support if people are struggling with bills or debt, and you can ask about an affordable repayment plan.
Read more here about dealing with soaring energy bills and here for energy saving tips.
‘Targeting most of the support on offer to pensioners who receive means-tested benefits, that is pension credit, was undoubtedly the right thing to do, but as a result it is more important than ever that every older person who qualifies receives their due.’
Finance industry campaigners recently launched a drive to seek out the worst off pensioners in the country to urge them to sign up for pension credit.
This tops up the weekly income of the elderly to a minimum of £182.60 for single people and £278.70 for couples.
Age UK says that even before Ofgem’s warning about a future hike in energy bills, many older people were looking ahead with trepidation and increasingly using ‘desperate coping strategies’ and ‘extreme budgeting’ to cover their essential costs.
‘Many older people are now only leaving home for health appointments and have cut back on seeing grandchildren, family and friends, to save on fuel and travel costs – leaving them feeling lonely and isolated,’ says the charity.
‘Some are going to extreme lengths such as eating just one meal a day or showering just once a fortnight in a bid to keep costs down, whilst others are going without dental treatment, cutting their own hair, borrowing money to buy heating oil, and staying in bed all day to stay warm.’
Having to make daily decisions about what to cut back on is taking a toll on elderly people’s mental health, with many reporting feeling anxious and depressed, adds the charity.
And it points out that people with disabilities and those caring for them face higher energy costs even in the summer because they might still to do a lot of laundry, keep their home very warm or use specialist medical equipment.
What elderly people say about their ‘desperate’ savings strategies
Pauline, a single pensioner, says: ‘It is affecting me probably more than many because I am a single pensioner. I have to heat a house, run a car (as I live off a bus route), buy food, heat my home, all done on a single pension, with a little extra from a [personal pension].
‘There isn’t enough money to live. I cut back on heating and make meals that last two to three days and hardly use my car. Prices have gone up but in comparison the state pension hasn’t kept up with inflation. The triple lock was taken away.’
Robert, who is completely reliant on the state pension, says: ‘I feel anxious and depressed. I only shower once a fortnight and use the oven once a week. I do not know what else I can do to meet the bills.’
We are just having to eat less and less. Sometimes dinner is just biscuits
One pensioner couple told Age UK: ‘My husband and I are both on the basic state pension. I am disabled and on lower rate Personal Independence Payment and he has Raynaud’s Syndrome which means he must keep warm at all times.
‘We can’t afford to get out much, especially now with heavy petrol increases. With the triple lock gone and food [prices] also escalating we are just having to eat less and less. Sometimes dinner is just biscuits.’
Another older person says: ‘I have turned heat off altogether. Eat just one meal daily. Not complaining as I have learnt in childhood to wear extra layers, cook and eat as my mum taught us in war years.
‘For entertainment I now visit the park and listen to radio. I cope, but how dreadful that we have gone so far back in living standards in modern Britain.’
‘Talking to older people who rely on their state pension certainly brings home just how serious the situation is for them,’ says Abrahams.
‘It comes to something when you hear a woman in her 70s describe how she is adopting strategies learned from her own parents’ experience during World War Two, to stay solvent in 2022.
‘At Age UK we are detecting a real undercurrent of fear among some of our older population because they hear the talk about price rises accelerating later in the year and they know they’ve no chance of withstanding them, without more external help.
‘Older people aren’t stupid and they realise that if they are struggling to keep their heads above water as things stand, the chances are they’ll slip under altogether in a few months’ time.
‘This makes it a horrible time for them, as they see their modest expectation of living decently in retirement slipping out of reach, certainly temporarily, possibly forever.’