Age UK has undertaken a survey of older people (aged 65+) about their priorities for our next Prime Minister. A massive 14,021 older people aged over 65 responded, with more than half (57 per cent) saying the restoration of the triple lock from April 2023 and help with the cost of living crisis was what they wanted to see the most, followed by action on the NHS and social care (25 per cent).
When Age UK carries out research with older people it usually finds that strengthening the NHS and social care is their top priority, so the pre-eminence of cost of living issues this time shows just how anxious many are about the prospects for their finances as the prices of everything they buy continue to rise.
Age UK has written to the two candidates for Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister to inform them of the results from the survey, urging them each to make a clear and unequivocal public statement about their commitment to restoring the triple lock and to giving emergency support with energy bills to see older people on low incomes through the autumn and winter.
Age UK believes it would give older people huge reassurance to hear both candidates say, on the record, that the triple lock will be reinstated in April 2023. The survey highlights how many older people are worried by rising prices and are struggling to pay bills, and by all the forecasts suggesting the situation is likely to get a lot worse. Energy bills for a typical household could hit £4,266 next year, consultancy Cornwall Insight has warned. This equates to 45 per cent of the current state pension, which is a terrifying prospect for older people dependent on it to keep going.
The State Pension is the largest source of income for most older people and, on average, pensioners receive less than £9000 a year from it. Due to the suspension of the triple lock in April 2022, the State Pension rose by just 3.1% this year; however, inflation is currently running at 9.4% and expected to rise further.
Before, as Age UK hopes, the triple lock comes back into force next April older people have to somehow get through an autumn and winter during which the cost of every essential, including utilities and food, will be high and rising, putting those on low and modest incomes in an impossible position. That’s why it is so important that whoever becomes Prime Minister takes determined action to protect the older people, and others in our society, at greatest risk.
After the triple lock and help with the cost of living, the next important priority for the older people who took part in Age UK’s survey, (25 per cent) was determined Government action to address deficiencies in the provision of health and social care. This finding comes after a recent survey from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care (ADASS), which found that by the end of April this year more than half a million people were waiting for assessments, care, Direct Payments, or care reviews – many of them older people.
This represents an increase of more than a third (37%) in just six months. Delayed discharges are also up, with many older people stuck in hospital beds when they are medically fit to leave, simply because there is no care in the community for them. The chronic shortage of home care is crippling patient flow in many hospitals up and down the land. Tragically, some people have waited up to nine months to be discharged from some trusts as a result. To restore their trust and confidence we believe it is imperative that the next Government takes swift action to tackle the shortfalls in funding and personnel undermining both the NHS and social care, as well as implementing the planned social care cap.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:
“The way the cost of living keeps rising is a nightmare for us all, but especially for people on low incomes, among them millions of pensioners. Every day the news about inflation seems to get worse, it’s no wonder some older people have told us they have switched off the news because they can’t bear to hear any more.
“Substantial numbers are struggling financially already, but if the economic forecasts are accurate many more pensioners will be plunged into serious trouble come the autumn and winter, including some who until very recently believed their position to be totally secure.
“With the benefit of all they have seen and experienced through their long lives older people know that this is an extraordinary situation, unlike anything before. They are telling us that they expect the Government of the day to take it with the same seriousness they do, and to bring forward measures to protect them in response. It shouldn’t be too much to expect, even at a time when the governing party is involved in a leadership contest to select our new Prime Minister.
“This is why we have written to the two remaining leadership candidates, urging them to make some concrete commitments, on the record, to give older people the reassurance they desperately need. I cannot overstate how upset and worried some older people are to find themselves in such a seemingly precarious financial situation; it’s why it is so important that the Government keeps its promise to reinstate the triple lock from April next year.
“Older people and others in our society on low incomes will also need a big injection of extra financial support from the Government to see them through the autumn and winter, because inflation is so rapidly eroding the help they were given just a few months ago. If this doesn’t happen our sincere belief is that we could see unprecedented numbers of older people dying of cold in their own homes, something we would never say lightly and that is incredibly shocking in the twenty first century.
“Millions of older people depend on the NHS and social care to live independently and with dignity, so it is deeply worrying for them, and their families, if they cannot rely on these essential services when they need them the most. How the system is resourced for this to happen is first and foremost a matter for government, but it is important that Ministers have a workable plan we can all believe in to raise the very substantial sums required. The current Government has repeatedly rejected calls for a fully joined up Health and Social Care workforce strategy but surely that’s what we need. I hope the next administration will take a more enlightened view.
“Meanwhile, lots of older people are stuck in hospital beds when medically fit to go home, losing physical capacity & becoming frustrated and despondent as their lives are put on hold. It’s an utterly miserable situation for everyone and it’s hard to see it improving unless and until the Government accepts that the root cause is the poverty pay in home care, and acts to give care workers a substantial pay rise. None of the care plans they have announced so far address this elephant in the social care room. Whoever emerges as our next Prime Minister, it is essential they understand the grave situation our acutely pressurised NHS and social care services are in, and that they take decisive action quickly to help turn things around.”