Age Scotland’s Communications and Campaigns Manager, Lindsay Scott, discusses the recent findings of the “Living on a Low Income in Later Life” report commissioned by the Age UK family.
A new report commissioned by the Age UK family covering the situation of older people in England, Scotland and Wales, shows that older people on low, fixed incomes are typically finding life tough but are ‘coping’.
The findings demonstrate the different forms of hardship that people in later life experience, highlighting the extent of the sheer hard work required in order to get by and just how constraining living on a low income can be.
A key conclusion is that, while dire material hardship may be less common in later life than it once was, the pressures associated with living on a low income have not gone away. Material hardship is still very evident; some of the people in the study had to economise on fulfilling basic needs, for example by, in winter, only heating part of their homes for part of the day.
The findings show how a combination of poor health and poor mobility and living in more isolated areas without accessible and affordable transport or social networks can result in some people becoming more disadvantaged than others. Where people are already on a restricted income, these factors make stretching their money further that bit harder, part of the problem being that if you are only just keeping your head above water, it is hard to deal with unexpected or additional expenses.
Someone who has planned their future outgoings carefully may find it nigh impossible to foot the bill for house repairs, to visit a sick relative at the other end of the country or to replace a broken appliance. Even where people we spoke to had a bit of ‘rainy day’ money put aside, they were reluctant to draw on it for fear of being unable to afford a more important expense in the future. Furthermore, the reluctance of many to get into any form of debt created an extra constraint.
Another issue arose where people did not always feel in control of their financial situation. In some cases, they were dependent on having things bought for them by family and friends and this made their financial comfort reliant on the goodwill of others.
Some people had done advance budgeting on the basis of a certain amount of interest on savings and when that dropped to a tenth of what it had been, found themselves with a problem. In other cases the ways in which organisations structured payments made things difficult for them, for example where their gas or electricity accounts were allowed to fall behind, causing large arrears or sudden increases in monthly payments.
What emerged right across Britain is that older people have been shaken rigid by the enormous fuel price rises we saw in the second half of last year and in combination with hikes in the costs of basic foodstuffs, those on low, fixed incomes have had the frighteners well and truly put upon them.
Finally, it is notable that for many of those who took part in this study, their limited incomes were not the most important factor in determining their quality of life. The closeness of their relationships, the quality of their local services and how they felt about their surrounding environment could often be more important.
However, this was often because they felt that they were currently ‘coping’ by paying bills on time, keeping relatively warm and buying the basics, and felt they could be philosophical about the limits to what they could buy.
Increases over the past decade in the real value of benefits, especially the Pension Credit, have undoubtedly contributed to this. The risk is that, if the buying power of incomes in later life declines, money will become more important as coping becomes ever more difficult. The most revealing fact to emerge from this study in our opinion is that many older people who are ‘getting by’ today are seriously worried that this will not last.
If you are worried about making ends meet, phone the Age Scotland Helpline – 0845 125 9732. The service is free and confidential.