New research from Age UK shows that 960,000 people aged 65 or over have had to spend less on food in the last 2 years.
Many pensioners live on low, fixed incomes and the rising cost of food and energy over recent years has hit them hard.
Among those surveyed for Age UK, 70% said the price of their weekly shop has increased in the past year.
There are 1.6m pensioners living below the poverty line, with almost a million living in severe poverty and many thousands more struggling to pay basic bills. Yet, despite this, huge numbers are still missing vital support.
For many older people, living on a low income long-term often results in a restriction in choice and a daily struggle to make ends meet.
To economise and save money, 1.6m older people are going from shop to shop to find the cheapest food. More than 1.6m will also shop for food in the reduced section or wait for discounted food at the end of the day.
Furthermore, 1.4m older people grow vegetables to save money, over 500,000 rarely eat meat because of the price and more than 155,000 will skip meals.
Data from across 150 local Age UKs also show a 360% increase in the number of enquiries about food banks from April 2013 to March 2014.
Although the actual number of enquiries is small in comparison to other older people’s issues, it’s clear from anecdotal evidence collected through Age UK’s network of local organisations that some older people, in particular those in their 50s and early 60s, face real hardship and need food support.
Many older people consider their food budgets a flexible outgoing that they can reduce if urgent needs arise.
Eating and good nutrition is especially important for people in later life and is often overlooked resulting in lower quality of life and health care problems. Poverty, practical difficulties with shopping and cooking and dementia are among some of the reasons why 1m people in later life are at risk of malnutrition.
Older people urged to claim entitlements
With official figures showing that the poorest pensioners spend less than £27 per week on their total food budget, Age UK is urging every older person to claim benefits they are entitled to, immediately.
If all those eligible for Pension Credit made a claim, it could increase their income by an average of £1,716 a year. This more than covers the average dual-fuel bill, which currently stands at £1,271 a year.
In fact, findings from Age UK’s survey found that well over four-fifths of those receiving Pension Credit can afford to buy good quality food and enjoy a balanced diet.
That’s why, as part of Age UK’s extensive national information and advice service, Age UK has produced a new free Pension Credit guide to help older people on a low income claim the extra money they’re entitled to.
Many older people don’t know what help is available or are reluctant to make a claim because they don’t realise they’re eligible for support.
Others feel too proud or embarrassed to claim, and some ‘make do’ because they believe the claiming process is too complicated or intrusive.
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said: ‘Poverty remains the reality of life for far too many older people - but there is help out there.
‘Our research clearly shows the extreme lengths too many older people are going to, just to get by – but cutting back on food or traipsing from shop to shop shouldn’t be an acceptable “norm” of everyday later life.
‘Good quality food is vital to an older person’s health and wellbeing and should not be compromised by the pressures of other household bills.
‘We’re urging all those who are struggling to make their money stretch to take the plunge and check what they could be entitled to. A simple call to our free advice line or visit to a local Age UK could put vital cash back into the pockets of the most needy.’
Get Age UK’s pension credit guide
To order a free copy of the new Pension Credit guide or for further information and advice, call Age UK Advice free of charge on 0800 169 65 65 or contact your local Age UK
Download the Pension Credit guide (PDF 636 KB).
Try Age UK's online benefits calculator to find out what other benefits you could claim.
As well as publishing guides and factsheets, Age UK offers essential support through its website, free advice line and network of local Age UKs, on a broad range of issues such as claiming benefits and managing money, exploring housing options, paying for care and support, and staying fit and healthy.