Hard-up OAPs in fight to survive

ONE in four pensioners in the eastern region is putting their health at risk by skipping meals in a desperate bid to save money in the recession, according to a report launched today.

ONE in four pensioners in the eastern region is putting their health at risk by skipping meals in a desperate bid to save money in the recession, according to a report launched today.

Alarming statistics released ahead of next week's budget show that many older people are going to extreme measures to cope with the current economic climate and are not confident the government will help them.

The newly-merged Age Concern and Help The Aged, which conducted the study, is warning that many over-60s, particularly the oldest and poorest pensioners, are the worst hit by high prices.

Older people face a higher than average inflation rate and two-fifths of older people in the East of England struggle to afford basic household essential items such as food and electricity.

The research also found that just under half (48pc) of all older people in the region are cutting back on socialising, while 38pc are scrimping on electricity and 34pc using less gas.

One in four are cutting back on food, while 23pc are actually skipping meals to save money.

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The charity is challenging the government to ensure any investment to stimulate the economy also benefits older people and launching a More Money in Your Pocket campaign to help them receive the benefits that are rightfully theirs.

Charity director Michelle Mitchell said: “Many older people in the East of England are being clobbered by high prices and are being pushed to extreme measures to cope financially - the government cannot sit by while older people skip meals and put their health at risk.

“The oldest and poorest pensioners are being hit particularly hard. The state of the economy is the defining issue of our times and this year's Budget will have many demands on it.

“But the challenge to government is to ensure that older people, and older voters in the East of England, aren't forgotten. Investment to stimulate the economy must also benefit them.

“In addition to any package of support for older people, the government must commit to rolling out automatic payment of benefits. In the meantime, our More Money in Your Pocket campaign will help many pensioners get the benefits they're entitled to, which will at least help ease their financial burden.”

Age Concern and Help The Aged last month interviewed a random sample of 1,230 people aged 60 and over, 105 of which were in the East of England.

Linda Gill, development manager in advice and advocacy at Age Concern Norfolk, said: “While we haven't conducted our own research we know from our callers that they are worried about the recession. Older people who are depending on investments to keep them going are hit, but also those on benefits because the calculations do not make any allowance for the interest rates. If they do have savings there is an assumption they will get a better rate of return, and they won't.

“I think where Norfolk misses out is in the rural economy, particularly things like those who use oil to heat their homes, who can't really take advantage of offers from big fuel providers. Quite often they have to buy their oil in large quantities, the cost of which could be massive - and that's something we were really aware of during the winter.”

Older people and the recession

Age Concern and Help the Aged is calling for a package of measures to help low income pensioners who have modest savings, including:

- A commitment to move quickly to roll out automatic payment of income-related benefits including pension credit, council tax benefit and housing benefit. Older people miss out on �5 billion in benefits each year.

- A package of measures to assist low income savers who have seen the income they rely on from modest savings eroded by cuts in interest rates.

- Maintaining the winter fuel payment and cold weather payment at current levels.

- Emergency funding of at least �1 billion to enable local authorities to increase access to care services and allocate personal budgets that are sufficient to meet people's needs.