The UK Government’s austerity and welfare reform agenda have had a devastating impact to date on those who are of low income and have to rely on social security benefits to get by each week. Throughout this time there has been a common perception amongst the general public that those over retirement age are far better off. After all their benefit entitlement hasn’t been affected by welfare reform and they continue to receive their annual increase in their pensions.
However nothing could be further from the truth. Pensioner poverty is on the rise with the UK Government figures confirming that 4 in every 10 pensioners do not claim Pension Credit – a means tested benefit that could top up pensioners income. In Ayrshire alone that equates to as much as £28m going unclaimed each year.
Many pensioners who have an illness or disability that means that they require additional support with their personal care are not claiming Attendance Allowance, a benefit designed to help them with the additional cost they incur are as result of their medical condition. These can be for things like a special diet or additional heating costs due to them spending more time in the home than previously. Little wonder therefore that Age Scotland reports that half of all single pensioners and 4 in 10 pensioner couples are living in fuel poverty, with many having to choose between heating and eating. Those living in rural communities more likely to be affected.
By cutting back on the essentials, especially food or heating, an older person is more likely to develop or exacerbate existing medical conditions, including their mental health. They become withdrawn and socially isolated which in turn affects the resources, financial and otherwise of local councils and the NHS who provide the social care services and address the health implications of older people living in poverty.
With winter approaching, this is a particularly difficult time for older people. Over the winter period between December 2017 and March 2018, the number of older people who passed away increased by 4,797 above the average for the rest of the year. The UK and Scotland is a rich nation and it is to our shame that poverty amongst older people is on the rise. But there are things we can do to tackle this blight on our society.
In East Ayrshire, along with our partners in the Poverty Action Group, we will be working on the development of a plan of action to tackle fuel poverty and seeking to identify those older people who are missing out on their full benefit entitlement.
In the meantime, if you think that you know of an older person who may be entitled to additional benefits or is struggling to heat their home, you can make a referral to the EA Money helpdesk or by freephone on 0800 389 7750. Or to make a claim for Pension Credit, call 0800 99 1234.