Feeling the pinch – the impact of the cost of living crisis on older people

April 2022

We spoke to Helen Rice, chief executive of Age UK West Sussex Brighton & Hove, about the cost of living crisis and how it is affecting older people’s well-being locally

West Sussex Mind: There has been a lot of talk in the news about the rising cost of living and the effect on household incomes. Are you seeing the effects of this in your service?

Helen: Absolutely, we are seeing the effects of this. Many of our clients are incredibly worried about increased costs. Research conducted by Age UK earlier this year showed that three-quarters of older people in the UK are worried about the rising cost of living. Over half said they’d have to heat their home less and a quarter said they’d have to choose between heating their home and the food they buy if energy bills increase substantially.

Calls to our information and advice team mirror that, with many people calling about debt or asking for benefits advice. I know some of those callers have been quite emotional. This is such a difficult time.

West Sussex Mind: What are the key issues people are grappling with?

Helen: The state pension isn’t keeping up with inflation and people on often meagre incomes are finding themselves more and more stretched. However frugal they are, they simply do not have enough money coming in to cope with such steep rises. When there aren’t luxuries to cut back on, people start having to choose between essentials like heating and food.

It’s putting their mental and physical health at risk. It’s dreadful to think that people are living in cold homes and facing malnutrition, because they don’t have enough money to cover the basics.

West Sussex Mind: Are you seeing that these issues are affecting older people’s mental health in your area?

Helen: Yes we are. Depression already affects around 25 per cent of people aged 65 or over. Money worries and ill health only exacerbate that.

West Sussex Mind: How can your service help older people in West Sussex and Brighton & Hove if they are struggling financially?

Helen: Our information and advice team can help ensure that people are claiming all the benefits they are entitled to. Extra support, such as Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount Scheme, fail to reach many of those who need them the most because they are not claiming Pension Credit. This crucial benefit opens the door to these and many other benefits, but nearly a million (920,000) pensioner households are missing out on Pension Credit payments. We’ve helped people across our area access well over a million pounds in unclaimed benefits.

West Sussex Mind: Research by national Mind suggests that people living in poverty often leave getting some financial advice until they are desperate. Is that your experience in your service?

Helen: Some people definitely wait until they are in a desperate situation before getting in touch, but others just aren’t aware that there is help available. They don’t think they would be entitled to any benefits, but a quick check might show them they could actually access a range of support.

West Sussex Mind: It can be a vicious circle with financial issues impacting people’s mental health and then their mental health making it harder for them to get help with their finances. How can we break this cycle?

Helen: We need to try and encourage people to approach organisations like ours, taking that first step to ask for help.

Some of our callers end up in tears of relief when they hear they can claim certain benefits to help them live better. It can also have an immediate positive impact on their mental health.

As you know, we work in partnership across West Sussex, so if we can’t help with their particular query, it’s likely we can connect them to an organisation that can. We’re constantly trying to raise awareness that we’re here and older people shouldn’t suffer in silence.

Age UK West Sussex, Brighton & Hove offers a free and confidential information and advice service for people over 50, their families and carers, including free money advice. For more information about the organisation's services, see its website or call 0800 019 1310.