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Elsie is no exception – millions of pensioners are ‘scared silly’ about cost of living crisis

There has been a steep increase in pensioner poverty in the last decade, affecting hundreds of thousands of elderly people.

The viral story of a pensioner riding the bus all day to keep warm is one of many heard by support workers amid the cost of living crisis, a leading elderly person’s charity has said.

The resurgence of pensioner poverty was highlighted following a Good Morning Britain interview with Boris Johnson in which Susanna Reid told him of Elsie, 77, who can’t afford to heat her home so sits on public transport instead.

The PM’s response, in which he ignored the dire circumstances and instead claimed credit for introducing the Freedom Pass Elsie presumably used to ride buses all day, ensured the story became big news, with Labour branding him “out of touch” and a GoFundMe page set up to support her.

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And Age UK, whose Westminster branch supports Elsie, says her situation is far from unique.

Director Caroline Abrahams said millions of pensioners like her are trying to manage “huge price rises” and said the question of “what an older person dependent on their state pension and with few if any savings can do when price hikes overwhelm their fixed income” has not been addressed by the Treasury.

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Speaking to The Big Issue, she added: “Recent events suggest that ministers are seriously underestimating the financial challenges facing people on low incomes. 

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“Until recently, few would have believed that an older person of modest means would be questioning if they could afford to pay their regular bills. Now that’s a routine occurrence and it’s a truly frightening prospect for millions who never expected to find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

“The Bank of England’s announcement that they expect inflation to rise to 10 percent later this year will be filling anyone on a low fixed income with absolute dread. 

“The government must wake up to the very real threat posed to people of all ages by soaring inflation and take immediate action to help them to manage their bills. It should raise benefits and entitlements to match price rises, as well as doing more to help them with their energy bills when the colder weather returns in a few months time.”

Similarly, Carole Easton, chief executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, told The Big Issue: “The heartbreaking reality is that Elsie isn’t alone in her struggles. 

“Millions are reliant on the state pension as their only source of income, which barely keeps people’s heads above water. So, rising living costs will hit people in this situation particularly hard. 

“We also know older people on low incomes are more likely to be living in housing that’s in bad condition and to struggle with affording to heat their homes, with cold homes responsible for 1 in 5 excess winter deaths.”

Easton added: “Clearly, people like Elsie are in need of much greater immediate support to navigate this challenging period. But longer term we need a much greater focus on tackling the widening inequalities within older generations.  

“What’s more, we also need urgent efforts to help people repair and insulate their homes – we have some of the oldest housing in Europe, meaning we’re facing an enormous challenge to improve our housing stock.”

For Jack and Wendy Fisher (not their real names) – 72 and 57 – their life in Gloucestershire feels precarious.

The couple said: “We’re just about keeping our heads above water right now, just about. However, these energy increases could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I don’t know where we’ll get the money from.

“We are only putting the heating on when we absolutely have to. We only live in a one-bed bungalow, so £92 already seems like too much for us.

“It’s an extremely worrying time, especially when the temperature drops. We don’t have any options.

“I honestly don’t know what we are going to do – I think it’s going to get to the stage where we don’t put the heating on at all, which I think could cause me some health problems.”

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, pensioner poverty rates are rising, and poverty among older females is rising slightly faster than among older males.

Since 2013/14, when pensioner poverty started rising again, the rise has been from 12 per cent to 16 per cent for males, and from 14 per cent to 20 per cent for females.

Older females typically have a higher pensioner poverty rate as they generally live longer than males, and more often have a less complete National Insurance contribution.

One 75-year-old from Devon said: “I can just about manage, but I have no wiggle room at all. If prices go up by as much as they say, I really will have to decide if I want to eat or be warm.”

Likewise, a 78-year-old from East Anglia said she’s worried how she will pay for extra care if she needs it.

“I’m always looking for things to cut back on and save money, but what else can I cut?” she said.

“I honestly don’t know what I will do when the prices go up. I’m scared silly about my bills.”

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