2 million pensioners face poverty amid spiralling energy bills, warns Age UK

Eugene, an 87-year-old retired Frenchman, cooks foods collected from a garbage container next to a supermarket in Nice June 11, 2013. A former interior decorator, and a pensioner of  24 years, Eugene lives in Nice and is the owner of a small apartment in a bourgeois district of the city. Although he receives a monthly pension of 1000 euros (1300 $US), he started rummaging through trash bins to collect food in 2012, as he did when a teenager during World War II, because 'times are hard' he said. He drives his old car seeking out supermarket trash containers in different parts of the city to fill his fridge. Eugene dreams of going to Las Vegas. Following a government report today June 14, 2013 the French should pay contributions for longer to get a full pension and well-off pensioners should get fewer tax rebates. Picture taken June 11, 2013.  REUTERS/Eric Gaillard (FRANCE - Tags: SOCIETY POVERTY FOOD)
Age UK said an increasing number of older people are anxious and fearful about their ability to cope financially. Photo: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Pensioners on the lowest incomes are spending almost one in every five pounds they have after tax on energy bills with some saying that “sometimes dinners is just biscuits”, according to Age UK.

The report by the charity estimates that two million older households won’t have enough money to cover their essential spending over the next year.

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.

One pensioner couple told Age UK: “My husband and I are both on the basic state pension. I am disabled and on lower rate PIP 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 also escalating we are just having to eat less and less. Sometimes dinner is just biscuits.”

Some are going to extreme lengths such as 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.

Read more: UK inflation heading for 14% for poorest households

Robert, who is completely reliant on the state pension, said: “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.”

Another pensioner commented: “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.

The report shows that those on the very lowest incomes are spending almost a fifth (18%) of their after-tax household income on energy bills because of April’s price cap rise, with one in three older households (29%) in England ‘fuel-stressed’– spending more than 10% of their post-tax income on energy bills to maintain an adequate standard of warmth.

Age UK is calling on the government to bring forward a package of measures to support those who lack the income and resources to cope with rising inflation. The charity is pushing for ministers to raise the level of benefits and the state pension during this financial year, so they keep pace with inflation.

It also wants a direct one-off payment of £500 to those on the lowest incomes to help mitigate the impact of energy price rises.

Other measures include introducing improved social tariffs into the energy market and doing more to ensure everyone eligible for benefits such as Pension Credit receives their entitlement.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: “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.

Read more: How to cope with bills out of the blue when you really can’t afford it

“The government must act quickly and decisively so pensioners on low and modest incomes can weather this storm.”

The energy price cap is likely to surge to £2,800 in October, an increase of around £800 a year on the average bill.

The cost of living crunch has resulted in an increasing number turning to Age UK’s national advice line for support.

From January to March this year, Age UK's Advice Line saw an 8% rise in calls compared with the same time last year, an increase on the already high numbers of calls taken during the COVID-19 lockdown in early 2021.

Age UK is urging anyone who is struggling to pay their bills to get in touch for a full benefits check in case they are missing out on vital benefits such as Pension Credit.

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