The ‘generational divide’ doesn’t exist – poverty is common to all ages

by Seán Moynihan CEO ALONE

There is a perception that we often come across in society. That is, that older people are ‘wealthier’, often home- and property-owners, and have generally received support from the Government on issues relating to their income and pensions.

The ‘generational divide’ doesn’t exist – poverty is common to all ages
Repro Free: Monday 11th January 2016. Picture Jason Clarke

It is a particularly dangerous view to have today, as younger people struggle to find a place to call home and face cost of living and climate crises. Much has been made of the so-called ‘generational divide’ where the understanding is that if you’re above a certain age, you’re doing alright.

Figures released this week by the Central Statistics Office have shown more drastically then ever why that is not the case. The figures show that one in every four older people is at risk of poverty –meaning that they are on an income below €15,754 per year. That is 143,633 older people, an increase of over 55,000 since 2021. Could you afford to live on this income and have to pay for food, clothes heating, health expenses, transportation? Unfortunately, in ALONE we are dealing with thousands of older people who are struggling every to.

Poverty among older people living alone is particularly alarming. The figures show that more than one in three people aged 65+ living alone are at risk of poverty, the highest rate of all age groups surveyed.

At ALONE, we have worked with older people experiencing poverty, among many other difficulties, for more than forty years. Throughout this winter, we have received calls from older people who are struggling to pay their heating bills, to afford transport to hospital appointments, and sometimes to put food on the table.

The cost-of-living crisis has been particularly difficult for older people who have physical or mental health difficulties, and those who need to keep their heating on for health reasons, who are now receiving enormous energy bills.

During the winter months of 2022, ALONE’s National Support and Referral Line saw calls relating to financial and legal difficulties grow by over 400% compared to the same period in 2021.

This is not indicative of a situation where older people are ‘doing alright’.

Furthermore, we called on Government ahead of Budget 2023 to increase the State Pension by a minimum of €20, and to commit to doing the same for Budget 2024, so that older people would be supported to avoid poverty in the face of huge increases in the cost of living. We also called on Government to benchmark the state pension, which they committed to doing by 2021 in the Programme for Government. However, this is still to be delivered.

While the State Pension was increased by €12, and one-off payments for older people and those living alone were implemented, this has not been enough to reduce the anxiety of people struggling to make hard choices between keeping warm, eating well, covering medical expenses and much more. One-off payments, while welcome, only protect people from the coalface for a few weeks at a time – they are not the same as providing long-term security.

Benchmarking of the pension could have avoided the need for this, and now we are living with the consequences of Government inaction in this area.

The difficulties being experienced by older people are increasing. More and more of us are renting into retirement age and beyond as housing costs have skyrocketed. Living costs are increasing. Older people, reliant on fixed incomes, are vulnerable to these changes.

At ALONE we are already seeing the sea change coming among the cohort we work with. In the years to come, older people will struggle even more unless significant action is taken. We know this is possible, but we need to see Government make the right choices.

Often younger people forget that older people are not a separate group with nothing in common with them. We will all get older sooner or later. We forget that campaigning for an increase to the pension, or for housing options for older people, is in fact a campaign for all of us. Working to improve the situation is not just for those of us who are at pension age today, but those who will be there next year and in ten years’ time and beyond.

Let’s skip the language of the ‘generational divide’. There is no need to pit generations against each-other when the truth is, financial struggle is a detriment and a concern to people of all ages.

If you or an older person you know needs support, call ALONE’s National Support and Referral Line on 0818 222 024, 8am-8pm

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