“HEATING or eating” is the stark choice now facing pensioners across Oxfordshire.
Leading charities say elderly people are struggling to deal with the costs of living, as food, fuel and medical bills rise at a rate higher than their pensions.
Veronica Seeney, 77, is a former home care worker from Champion Way, Littlemore.
She said: “I had a widow’s pension, my husband died 31 years ago and I had six kids to look after.
“Our generation worked and worked, to the bone, and now we’re scraping by.
“You do have to think about money every time you put your heating on.”
Jenny Bull, 76, and her husband Ken, 78, live in Long Hanborough, and are struggling to cope with their mounting bills for utilities, food and petrol.
Their overall bill has risen by about eight per cent each year for the last four years, while their pensions have only increased with inflation, currently 2.6 per cent.
She said: “I only have a small state pension and the brunt of our expenses fall on my husband.
“We have cut our food down so that we can pay the bills but when they put the costs up again it is going to be a case of eat or heat.
“The Government say we are all in this together but this rings very hollow indeed. Some of us are seriously struggling.”
Adding to their financial pressures, Mr Bull provides 24/7 care for his terminally-ill wife. She has suffered from skin cancer, heart failure, kidney failure, liver disease and a stroke.
She says she is “very much living on borrowed time”.
Mr and Mrs Bull have a son, Philip, who was born profoundly deaf.
The combined effect of their costs has led the couple to call on the Government to boost financial aid for people in their position.
Mrs Bull receives £77.45 a week Attendance Allowance to help with her personal care.
But Mr Bull is not eligible for Carer's Allowance because he is above the age of 65 and his state pension is more than the £55.55 allowance.
Mr Bull, said: “It is becoming more of a struggle trying to get help from the authorities. You have to do one assessment after another.”
And it’s not just those who care for others who are struggling.
Jayne Woodley, chief executive of Oxfordshire Community Fund added: “Somebody I spoke to turned off their fridge because they thought it would save money and somebody else opened their oven door as he thought it was the only way of heating his house.
“People are being forced to make really difficult decisions – making the choice between eating and heating and both things are really essential.”
Age UK Oxfordshire’s latest report claims that 14,000 out of 120,000 pensioners in the county live below the poverty line.
Penny Thewlis, deputy chief executive of Age UK Oxfordshire, said: “Ken and Jenny’s story is a very familiar one to us, with people like Ken feeling that they have to fight for anything and everything that they get by way of support.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeman said: “This Government has agreed to keep key support for pensioners, including Winter Fuel Payments, free bus passes, prescriptions and eye tests, and free TV licences for the over 75s, and permanently increased Cold Weather Payments to £25.
“We are spending an extra £4.5 billion uprating benefits for pensioners this year and we have restored the earnings link for the basic state pension."
WHAT ELDERLY PEOPLE ARE ENTITLED TO
THERE are a range of benefits available to elderly people, but they can be complicated to understand.
Every applicant is means tested so amounts are given out on a case by case basis.
Laura Wilson, deputy manager of the Agnes Smith Advice Centre in Blackbird Leys Road, said: “There are a number of benefits available to older people.
“If they speak to an advisor they will be able to find out what they qualify for, there are some that many aren’t aware of, such as Attendance Allowance, or the fuel allowance.”
Call the centre on 01865 770206.
The Oxfordshire Community Foundation is running its annual Surviving Winter Appeal which encourages those who can afford to forgo their annual Winter Fuel Payment to donate it to those who will struggle to keep warm this winter.
Chief executive Jayne Woodley said: “The difficulty can be that people want to keep financial matters private and are afraid of asking for help, so rather than simply handing out cash we are running benefits checks to help those who really do need it.
“There are millions of pounds in unclaimed benefits. It’ often the case that because it is so difficult to apply for some people don’t bother.”
Call the foundation on 01865 798 666.
What is available?
Attendance Allowance is a social security allowance for over-65s which helps with the cost of care or supervision needs.
The low rate is £51.85 weekly and the high rate is £77.45 weekly.
This is paid even if the person lives alone with no help.
Carer’s Allowance is for people who spend at least 35 hours each week caring for a severely disabled person. Payment vary due to circumstances, but range from about £30 per week to more than £60 per week.
Winter fuel payment: An annual lump-sum payment paid to people of pensionable age to help with fuel costs. Depending on circumstances such as age the payment varies between £100 and £300, with the higher payments made to over 80s.
Pension credit: For people over 60, this credit tops up pensions for those whose income falls below a certain amount.
The credit boosts weekly income if it’s below £142.70 for a single person, or £217.90 for couples.
Pension credit tops income to £142.70 a week (up from to £119.05 in 2008)
Winter fuel allowance: £200
Food: £20 to £25 a week in 2008 to £55 now
Gas: Prepaid meter £5 per week in 2008 to £20 now
Electricity: Prepaid meter £5 per week in 2008 to £20 now
Water: £250 a year in 2008 to £300 now
Ken and Jenny Bull
State pension above £55 a week
Attendance Allowance £77.45 a week
Winter fuel allowance £200
Food and medical bills: £70 a week in 2008 to £100 now
Gas: £14 a week in 2008 to £19 now
Electricity: £13 a week in 2008 to £15 now
Water: £314 a year in 2008 to £382 now
Petrol: 85p a litre in 2008 to £1.45 a litre now