By Jo Garsden, Programme Manager at Greater Manchester Ageing Hub
In my work around financial hardship, which is supported by national charity Independent Age, I’ve been struck by how few older people are willing to speak openly about their money worries.
This tendency to shy away from talking about financial struggles is not limited to those in later life, but I believe it is unhelpful and only increases the isolation felt by those caught in the current cost-of-living crisis.
A recent YouGov poll commissioned by Independent Age demonstrates both the financial strain on many older people and a resistance to ask for help. The poll found that nationally, 1 in 7 people aged over 65 were reliant on loans and credit cards to make ends meet, with more than half (57%) of respondents also saying they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking friends or family for support.
I see this pattern reflected when I speak with older people about the huge sums of unclaimed Pension Credit in Greater Manchester. The conversation inevitably turns to the stigma, embarrassment, and shame many of their generation feel about claiming benefits. But if we can make talking about money more normal, could we create more safe opportunities for older people in financial crisis to speak up? And could these conversations lead to more of us in later life receiving crucial support and claiming the benefits we are entitled to?
The scale of the opportunity is vast – an estimated £70 million goes unclaimed in Greater Manchester each year, with around 36,000 households eligible but not claiming. Over the past few years, GMCA’s Ageing Hub has facilitated the Pension Top Up and Winterwise campaigns to help resource councils, housing providers, the voluntary sector, and other organisations. So far, over £10 million per year of additional income has been claimed by older residents in GM. Despite the focus on Pension Credit, more income has been generated through take up of Attendance Allowance and Housing Benefit, suggesting even larger sums of money go unclaimed.
It’s so powerful for decision-makers to hear from older people about their lives, so I am thankful for a new report from Independent Age, ‘Who wants to listen to me? Why England needs a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing’. Based on a series of listening events across England, including one in Greater Manchester, Independent Age sought to hear from older people about their most pressing issues. Not surprisingly, spirally costs came in the top three alongside transport and ageism.
Importantly for us, the report contains quotes from older people in Greater Manchester, given anonymously, around the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. It’s distressing reading and gives voice to the hidden anguish experienced by too many in our city region:
“I’m making cutbacks, just to survive. Even the things I need, I need to count the pennies.”
These quotes echo what we’ve been hearing from councils, the voluntary sector and housing providers – rising debt, high levels of fear and stress, older people cutting essential utilities and care support.
As we approach winter, it’s a good time to ask older people we know how they are managing, particularly around energy and food costs. Our talking tips guides (Winterwise Talking Tips guide and Keeping Well This Winter Talking Tips) suggest some simple conversation starters:
What’s on the menu tonight? How’s your appetite? Has your weekly shop gone up much?
Are you warm enough at home? Do you know about warm spaces in your area? Have you checked you are getting all you’re entitled to? Are you getting the best deal on your energy? Would you like help to get anything sorted?
It can really help to share our own experiences too. People of all ages have been hit by rising prices. Hearing how we have cut back, saved money, or found great deals can help reduce stigma. If we can normalise and even encourage talking about money pressures, perhaps older people will feel more comfortable asking for support.
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