Skipping meals, washing and heating: Thousands of Welsh pensioners being dragged into poverty

Wales Reporter Rhys Williams delivers a special report on the growing numbers of pensioners struggling to eat, pay the bills and keep their homes warm this winter

More than one in five Welsh pensioners have gone without heating their home at some point this winter, while 13% have gone without a shower or a bath.

A survey by the Bevan Foundation, shared exclusively with ITV News, also found that one in ten pensioners have cut down, or skipped meals altogether, while 8% have decided against taking an essential journey like attending a medical appointment. The figures come as concern grows about a looming pensioner poverty time bomb in Wales, which has the UK’s oldest population.

After decades of progress in reducing the rate of poverty among pensioners, that progress is being reversed.

'People are turning off their lights, and some are coming here to shower once a week'. Charities say they are under more pressure than ever. Credit: ITV News

In 1994, nearly three in ten (28%) of people older than 65 lived in poverty, but by 2012 the rate had plummeted to just 13%, the lowest rate for any group.

However, it’s been steadily climbing for eight years, reaching 18%.

Percentages though, tell only part of the story, as the average age of the UK population continues to climb.

The number of people over 85 in the UK is expected to double by 2050. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than in Wales, where 21.4% of the population is over 65, compared to 18.7% across the UK.

ITV News has travelled around the country hearing from pensioners unable to make ends meet from their state pensions, and the charities struggling to help them.

'I'd love a social life, but I can't afford it,' Alan says he has to wear winter clothes indoors to avoid heating bills. Credit: ITV News

Alan, 77, lives in Duffryn, on the outskirts of Newport. He was a communications officer in the Royal Navy, travelling to every continent in nearly twenty years of service. He left the armed forces due to health reasons two years before he became entitled to a military pension. After he pays all his bills, he has next to nothing left.

“You’ve got to be very careful about how you spend, and what you spend your money on,” he tells me.

Each day Alan eats the same meal and wears his winter coat in his small flat so that he can avoid putting the heating on for longer than two hours a day.

He says he would love to enjoy his retirement and make friends, but it’s too expensive.

“There is no such thing, for me, as a social life… I’d love a social life, but I can’t afford it, literally.”

Across Wales, nearly a third of all pensioners in social rented housing are living in poverty. But as pensioner poverty rates go up, the help available to those in need is not. We visited two businesses and a charity who told us they’ve had to step in to help struggling pensioners at cost, as services which used to be run by councils have been cut. “People are turning off their lights, we’ve got people that come here that only have a shower once a week because of the cost of water,” says Sarah Mason, who runs Helping Our Homeless Wales.

She says more and more elderly people are relying on warm spaces like her centre in Builth Wells, Powys, to survive.

“Being able to access services like this is keeping them afloat, instead of them sinking into the cost of living crisis we’re able to help them manage their money and make it go that little bit further.” The Bevan Foundation’s head of policy Steffan Evans told ITV News that cost of living payments paid to the poorest households last year should be reinstated.

“Those cost of living payments eased a lot of the pressure that people faced, and they’re not there this year, even though the financial pressures are very much the same.

“Without that extra support, people are finding life much more difficult. We need to be giving that money and putting it back into people’s pockets because that will ultimately reduce pressure on our NHS and other public services as well.”

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We continue to do all we can to support people through the cost-of-living crisis by providing targeted help to those who need it the most. During 2022-23 and 2023-24 this support was worth more than £3.3 billion.

“We know receiving Pension Credit makes a significant difference to the lives of older people and are working with partners to increase take-up.

“Our Discretionary Assistance Fund also provides lifeline emergency cash payments for people facing severe financial pressures.”

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