4.2 million older people cut back on food and groceries in cost-of-living crisis

New research for Age UK reveals almost a third (29%) of over 60s, equivalent to 4.2 million have recently cut back on food or groceries to make ends meet, rising to 40% of people aged 60+ living in a household with an income of £20k or lower. 

There are at least 1.8 million households with a person aged 60+ which have an equivalised before-tax household income of less than £20k.

Among the over-60s, polling for the Charity shows that 39% of over 60s are worried about being able to afford food as well as heat their homes adequately.  As the colder months loom into view, Age UK fears that pensioners will see their food budgets as the only flexible outgoing that can be cut back on if urgent needs arise, putting their health at risk as well as their wellbeing.

Food has become an increasingly large percentage of pensioner household spending as costs have spiralled during the cost-of-living crisis. New analysis by Age UK shows that the median pensioner household is spending around £50 per week on food and non-alcoholic beverages today (16.4% of their after-tax household income) – compared to £38 in 2021 (13.7% of their after-tax household income) – equivalent to £640 more per year more since the start of the cost-of-living crisis. 

• A 73 year old said: “I avoid putting the heating on. I rarely use the oven, just cook on the hob, one decent meal a day but very little meat – mainly vegetables.”

• A 74 year old woman, commented: “We don’t eat a lot now.  We usually shop in the reduced bin and make what we get into a cheap meal.”

• An 80-year-old man commented: “Energy bills and high price hikes in the price of food have driven us to the brink. We are dipping into our meagre savings – running faster and still losing ground.”

Age UK is calling on the Government to help older people on low incomes by:

• Extending the Cost of Living Payments past Spring 2024

• Expanding eligibility for Cost of Living payments to those on Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction

• Increasing the Household Support Fund to help those just missing out on Cost of Living payments and Pension Credit

• Honouring their Triple Lock promise on the State Pension and raising benefits in line with inflation.

Age UK 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 modest savings have helped them to get by so far, but whose rainy day money has now run out; and those who face higher costs due to poor health and/or disabilities – for example, because they need to use their washing machine every day due to incontinence.

A third (34 per cent) of those eligible for Pension Credit are still missing out – a huge concern, especially as inflation is lower than it was but not entirely vanquished, and energy prices set to remain high this winter. 

Health at risk

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “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. 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.

“Malnutrition has long been a real problem for many older people. Loneliness, social isolation, disability and common health problems can all impact on older people’s appetite or ability to eat, access 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. What a sad position for our country to be in in the twenty first century. 

“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.

“Against this worrying context it is a travesty that in the last year for which official figures are available, 2019-2020, a whopping £2.4 billion of Pension Credit and Housing Benefit went unclaimed by older people in Great Britain. It is more important than ever that any older person who may be eligible for this extra support asks for it, and Age UK is here to help. However, 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.”

Advice available 

The Charity is urging every older person who may have not struggled before living on a low income to contact Age UK and check whether they are entitled to extra money help without delay.  Older people, their families and friends looking for support should visit www.ageuk.org.uk/support or call the Age UK Advice Line on 0800 169 65 65. The Age UK Advice Line is open 365 days a year (8am – 7pm) offering advice on a range of issues.

Age UK hosts a free and anonymous Benefits Calculator which can provide an estimate of the benefits that people could be entitled to.  For further information about the cost-of-living crisis, please click here.

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