Older people left without a “safety net” this year after using up savings

One in four older people (24%) had to rely on savings last winter because their income wasn’t enough to cover living costs, according to new research by the older people’s financial hardship charity Independent Age. This increased to one in three (33%) for older people with a low household income (under £20,000).

As another winter approaches and high costs continue, the charity warns that older people’s ability to cope this year could be further reduced as older people have already seen their savings diminish.  

Of the 24% of all respondents that had to use savings: 

  • 35% said they used a significant amount
  • 7% used all or almost all of their savings
  • 10% used most 
  • 58% had to use more than what they considered to be a small amount

Worryingly, 6% of all respondents didn’t have any savings to fall back on when they were struggling to pay bills. This increased to 10% for older people with an income of less than £20,000. The charity hears from older people every day in this situation who are making dangerous cuts to cover their costs, and in some cases, getting into debt. 

“Sleeping in coats and hats”

Joanna Elson CBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said:“With 2.1 million older people already living in poverty last winter, callers to our helpline were frightened, and many didn’t have savings to support themselves. We heard from people who were sleeping in coats and hats because they couldn’t afford to turn the heating on; one older person even resorted to eating dog food to save money. We also heard from people who had worked all their life and done their best to save, yet were reaching out for help for the first time as the financial strain became too much.

“This upcoming winter has the potential to be even more challenging, and from our research we now know many older people were forced to deplete their savings last year just to get by. Without this safety net to fall back on, many more older people may be forced into making drastic, and in some cases, dangerous cutbacks because they don’t have enough money to cover the essentials. For others, it could mean they fall into poverty, which is a very worrying prospect.”

The YouGov poll of 2,252 people aged 65 and over revealed just how tough last winter was for many in later life, with 15% of all respondents and 25% of respondents on a low income saying they could only just afford their essentials and often struggled to make ends meet. 

The polling laid bare the anxiety felt by many older people. 35% of all respondents said they are worried about their financial situation. When asked about what areas of household spending are causing concern, energy costs were the overwhelming contributor at 82%, followed by council tax at 34%, food at 33%, household repairs at 31% and medical costs at 17%.

Savings should also not be assumed in later life. 24% of all pensioners have no savings, and a further 19% have savings under £5,000. Among the poorest fifth of pensioners, 40% have no savings and 24% have less than £5,000. 

Support this winter

Poverty in later life has been rising since 2012. Independent Age is urging older people, or worried friends and family, to contact the charity’s helpline to check whether they are eligible for any additional support.

Independent Age has launched its Christmas appeal ‘A Life Worth Living’. All money raised from the appeal will go towards the charity’s helpline, to enable them to support more older people in financial hardship. 

Joanna Elson continues: “With the budgets of older people on a low income being stretched to breaking point, it has never been more important for people to check whether they are eligible for additional support.

“On average, we have been able to find callers to our helpline an additional £4,000 per year in unclaimed benefits like Pension Credit, Attendance Allowance and Housing Benefit. This money – which they are entitled to, but may well not know about – can be life changing. No one should face money worries alone.As a tough winter approaches, we are urging anyone who is struggling to reach out and call our free and confidential helpline. We have trained advisors ready to help.”

Independent Age’s free and confidential helpline number is 0800 319 6789. The team can also be reached on helpline@independentage.org

Independent Age’s Christmas appeal ‘A Life Worth Living’ runs from Wednesday 15 November until Friday 12 January to raise vital funds for the charity’s helpline.  To find out more about the appeal and to donate, see Donate to Independent Age

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