In the UK, food poverty amongst the elderly and vulnerable has been in crisis for some time and it is especially noticeable at this time of year.
Amongst the 1.9 million pensioners living in poverty are 18.5% aged 75 and over who have incomes below the poverty line and are at risk of malnutrition as they have to skip meals to survive.
In comparison with other developed countries, it is predicted that many people in the UK who don’t have a personal pension, poor pay rises, adequate savings or own their own home will struggle considerably when they retire as their state pension would equate to less than 30% of what they had been earning and 20% would be retiring with debt (another growing concern). Commenting on the OECD’s Pensions at a Glance 2017 report, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Working people in Britain face the biggest retirement cliff edge of any developed nation.” This will also ring true for those born in the early 70’s, as according to a recent study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies they would have less wealth than their predecessors and will see the state pension age in the UK rise from 67 to 68 between 2037 and 2039.
Food banks have been a safe haven for those who are at their most desperate since 1967 and since the financial crisis in 2008 they have become a mainstay of almost every community across the nation. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest food bank network, reported to have provided over 586,000 three day emergency boxes throughout April to September 2017 (a 13% increase on the same period in 2016). Furthermore, FareShare, the UK’s food redistribution charity reports that 13% of its clients are aged over 65.
By providing over 11,150 tonnes of food over the course of the year, food banks are a lifeline for thousands of people, especially as benefits are still the same but the living costs, like rent, utilities and transport costs, are always increasing. Further to this, Debbie Twitchen of Landport Food Bank in Lewes recently said “we support older people who are finding it increasingly difficult to get by on pension credit and working clients who are struggling with the benefit cap, as well as changes to council tax relief, the bedroom tax and benefit sanctions.”
There are now 300,000 extra pensioners among the poorest compared to 2013 with many being at risk of under-nutrition because of poverty, or because they don’t get the support they need to shop, cook and eat, also those who feel lonely tend to eat less. Under-nutrition is a major cause of functional decline among older people which leads to poorer health outcomes, falls and delays in recovery from illness as well as longer periods in hospital, which can result in delayed operations. According to evidence from the National Nutrition Screen Survey, on admission to hospital, 33% of people aged over 65 are at risk of under-nutrition as they do not have an adequate intake of protein or energy in their diet.
As a welfare driven company, we must also highlight the issue that for some individuals it is not easy to get to their local food bank or pop out to the shops as 19% of people aged over 65 need help to leave their home. Many of these individuals may feel embarrassed to ask for help as they don’t wish to worry others and will cut back on food during colder months in order to heat their home. Furthermore, single pensioners are on the lowest incomes with the most dramatic rise in winter food bills since 2008.
Whilst emergency food parcels are not a long-term solution and are unsustainable, for now many would be very grateful if you could do your bit by contributing cupboard food and personal hygiene items (such as cereal, soup, pasta, rice, pasta sauce, beans, tinned meat, fish and fruit/vegetables, tea/coffee, biscuits, toothpaste, sanitary ware, deodorant, etc.) and supermarket vouchers to food bank collection points at your local church, community centre and supermarkets.
As well as urgent action required from policy-makers to improve upon the benefits system, Trussell Trust senior policy officer Abby Jitendra adds, “Without even more generous practical support from the public, we don’t know how food banks are going to stop families and children going hungry.”
To find your nearest collection point and for more information on how you can help, please visit the Trussell Trust website www.trusselltrust.org/get-involved/ways-to-give and the Fareshare website http://fareshare.org.uk/fareshare-centres.
You may also wish to consider opening your home to an elderly person in your local neighbourhood by offering them a space at your table to see in the New Year or indeed make it a regular occasion by joining the Spare Chair Sunday community www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk/bisto or join the Community Christmas organisation to host or volunteer at one of their events https://communitychristmas.org.uk/get-involved/events-and-activities.