Retirement should be a time when we can take things easy and enjoy life – and for some it is. But for too many people with low incomes just getting by takes a great deal of effort.
A new Age UK report, “Living on a Low Income in Later Life”, based on interviews and discussion groups with low income older people, paints a picture of lives that revolve around budgeting to make every penny count and keeping meticulous records of spending. A shopping trip isn’t just a quick dash to the nearest shop. It can be a carefully planned mission – going to one place where the teabags are cheaper, getting the bus to another where items are on special offer and then a carefully timed visit to a store that marks down prices at the end of the day. However this is only possible if you are reasonably fit.
People taking part in our research talked about cutting down, doing without and making do. A couple of people said they just used a hob and microwave rather than facing the cost of a replacing a broken oven.
Energy bills are a major worry The cost of heating was reduced in a variety of ways including going to bed early, only having the heating on for two hours, and boiling a kettle for washing rather than heating a tank of water. A disabled woman explained that she had to make hard choices about going out because of cost of taxis. A dentist appointment meant she could not visit her sick brother that week.
Generally people do not complain. They feel they are from a generation that is not extravagant and do all they can to avoid debt. They show a great deal of resilience and often take pride in making the money go round. However the constant task of trying to eke out their money can be emotionally draining. And without any prospect of increasing income or savings people worry about future – for example how to cope with an unexpected bill.
The national statistics show that there are 1.8 million older people live in poverty and this is in line with recent polling which shows a significant minority of people finding life very hard. For example approaching a quarter (23%) of people aged 60 and over said they bought less food than they wanted to because it was expensive and one in seven (14%) admitted to going to bed when they were not tired in order to save heating costs.
Our new report illustrates the lives behind the statistics and demonstrates that while most people on low incomes do manage, this can be hard work.