Nearly 1 million older people cutting back on food to pay utility bills

Nearly 1 million older people cutting back on food to pay utility bills

In the last two years, almost a million (960,000) older people have had to cut back on food shopping to cover the cost of utility bills, according to new research by Age UK.

The Charity is warning that the cost of living is forcing many of the poorest pensioners to cut back on their food shopping and seek out other ways to buy cheaper food and pay for other day-to-day essentials.

Many pensioners live on low, fixed incomes and have been hit hard by the rising cost of food and energy over recent years.

Seventy per cent of all those 65 and over surveyed for Age UK said the price of their weekly shop has gone up in the past year. Yet despite 1.6 million pensioners living below the poverty line, with nearly a million of those living in severe poverty and many thousands more struggling to pay basic bills, huge numbers of older people are missing out on vital support.

Living on a low income long-term can have a range of impacts but for many older people this often results in a restriction in choice and a daily struggle to make ends meet.  For many older people, food budgets can often be seen as a flexible outgoing that can be cut back on if urgent needs arise.

As part of older people’s efforts to economise and save, findings for the Charity reveal:

  • 1.6m older people go from shop to shop to find the cheapest food
  • More than 1.6 million shop for food in the reduced section or wait for food to be discounted at the end of the day
  • 1.4m older people grow their own vegetables to save money
  • Over 500,000 older people rarely eat meat because of the price
  • More than 155,000 older people skip meals to save money

In addition, data from across 150 local Age UKs show a 360% increase in the number of enquiries about food banks from April 2013-March 2014.

Although the actual number of enquiries is relatively small in comparison to other older people’s issues, anecdotal evidence collected via the Charity’s network of local organisations makes clear that there are some older people, in particular those in their 50s and early 60s, facing real hardship and who are in need of food support.

Eating and good nutrition is especially important for those in later life and is often overlooked resulting in lower quality of life and health care problems, poverty, practical difficulties with shopping and cooking, dementia are among some of the reasons why one  million older people are at risk of malnutrition.

With official figures showing that the very poorest pensioners spend less than £27 per week on their total food budget, Age UK is urging every older person who is entitled to claim benefits to do so without delay.

If all those eligible for Pension Credit made a claim, it could increase their income by an average of £1,716 a year – more than covering the average dual-fuel bill which currently stands at £1,271 a year.

In fact, findings from the Charity’s survey found that well over four-fifths of those older people receiving Pension Credit can afford to buy good quality food and enjoy a balanced diet.

That’s why, as part of Age UK’s extensive national information and advice service, the Charity has produced a new free Pension Credit guide which is specifically designed to help older people on a low income claim the extra money to which they are entitled.

Many older people are unaware of the help that’s available or are reluctant to make a claim because they don’t realise they will be entitled to anything. Others feel too proud or embarrassed to claim, and some believe the claiming process is too complicated or intrusive and would rather ‘make do’.

Caroline Abrahams Age UKAge UK’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “Poverty remains the reality of life for far too many older people – but there is help out there.

“Good quality food is vital to an older person’s health and wellbeing and should not be compromised by the pressures of other household bills.

“We’re urging all those who are struggling to make their money stretch to take the plunge and check what they could be entitled to.  A simple call to our free advice line or visit to a local Age UK could put vital cash back into the pockets of the most needy.”

To order a free copy of the new Pension Credit guide or for further information and advice, people can call Age UK Advice free of charge on 0800 169 65 65, contact their local Age UK, or visit where there is an online benefits calculator to help people find out what benefits they may be entitled to.

As well as publishing guides and factsheets, the Charity offers essential support via its website, free advice line and network of local Age UKs, on a broad range of issues such as claiming benefits and managing money, exploring housing options, paying for care and support, and staying fit and healthy.’

Image courtesy of Age UK