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The real cost of living

“I went down to nearly 7 stone. If I’d continued, I would have been close to death…”

James, a retired nurse, explains how the cost of living crisis and ill health put him at serious risk.

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The cost of living crisis is nothing new to retired psychiatric nurse James, from Greater Manchester.

“Growing up, I didn’t have schoolbooks because we couldn’t afford them. I used to read other boys’ books in the toilets during the breaks. God gave me a good brain to learn quickly and memorise.”

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Growing up amid the poverty of rural Ireland in the 1950s, he remembers his postman dad shopping and cooking for those less fortunate. “Even though he didn’t have much money, when somebody was without, he’d turn up and give them some,” James remembers. “My mum would help the beggars and travellers on the road. She’d bring them in and give them food and drink even though we didn’t have much.”

With his father’s encouragement, he put that good brain to use, qualifying as a psychiatric nurse, and gaining a further degree in social work. He moved to England, working his way up to team manager of a community mental health team in Richmond, Surrey. He also became an expert witness in court cases involving the capacity of people with disabilities and learning difficulties.

A care crisis of his own

After 46 years working for the NHS, James retired in 2016, only to find himself alone and facing his own care crisis.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s and curvature of the spine, he can’t use his fingers and has severe pain in most of his body. He’s had to foot the bill for four daily care visits just to help him cope.

“Financially, it’s a burden,” he admits. “I must take care with the food shopping; I buy just enough. I try to buy cheaper products and look more carefully at costs because I’ve got to pay for all my care.”

As energy costs rose, James started keeping the boiler switched off, while wearing jumpers inside to ward off the cold. “I live without heating as the price is sky high. I don’t overspend and live on a tight budget,” he explains.

Putting health at risk

Back in October, 15% of older people - equivalent to 2.5 million - told us they were already skipping meals or expected to do so in the coming months. James did so too, but found that his cost cutting put his health at risk.

“I would eat a sandwich at lunchtime and that was about it. I went down to nearly 7 stone. If I’d continued, I would have been close to death,” he says.

Age UK is calling on the Government to protect older and disabled people and carers from sky high energy bills, handing in a petition to Parliament on 9 March.

Raised and trained to look after others, James admits asking for help didn’t come naturally, even after the drastic three-and-a-half stone weight loss. “I don’t like to feel sorry for myself and try not to worry,” he says.

A helping hand

When he eventually did reach out, he found the Age UK Advice Line “achieved the impossible.” Thanks to the charity’s help in applying for benefits, he can now afford a delivery of one hot meal a day. This has helped get his weight back up to 9.5 stone.

“I’d come up against obstacles applying for Attendance Allowance,” explains James. “It’s hard when you hit a brick wall. It got me very down.

“Age UK exceeded my expectations. The lady filled in my form, which is about 60 questions, explained my situation to the Department for Work and Pensions and helped me access that allowance. I’ll never forget it.”

Thanks to the extra money, James managed to save enough money on his care costs to get him a wheelchair. “So now I can get out and about,” he says. James remains grateful that Age UK were able to take the time to support him, particularly as he has seen how the system works from both sides. “I felt invisible, struggling along with low income for so long. Age UK promised they’d help me, and they kept that promise. It’s an exceptionally caring system.”

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Last updated: Apr 03 2023

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