During a cost of living crisis, and with taxes and energy costs at record highs, there are a plethora of problems facing many people in Wales this winter. But some issues have particular impacts on older people, especially those past the period of life that’s usually considered ‘working age’.
Face-to-face banking services are crucial for older people to live full and independent lives. However, 348 bank branches have closed in Wales since 2015. The cost of living is forcing many older people to stay in work rather than retiring as planned. And loneliness at Christmas is widespread amongst thousands of older people in Wales.
Shrinking banking services
With bank closures sweeping across Wales, Age Cymru has urged the banking industry to consider the devastating effects on many older people in an open letter to banks and politicians. A recent Which? report said 348 bank branches in Wales have closed since 2015, leaving just 211 operating branches. Many older people need their local bank to make essential financial transactions such as paying household bills, and to access cash so they can balance budgets during these challenging times.
Some older people have resorted to asking others to undertake their financial transactions, impacting on privacy and independence. For many, losing the ability to manage their own financial affairs feels demeaning, and it could leave some older people vulnerable to criminal activity. Being able to seek face-to-face advice in a branch also helps older people become more resilient to scams – regarding which they are the most targeted age group in the UK.
The March 2023 Audit Wales report, Digital Inclusion in Wales, said nearly a third (32%) of over-75s in Wales are classified as digitally excluded. This means online banking services are not an appropriate alternative for many. And amalgamating several local branches into a larger central operation further afield is problematic for those older people reliant on a dwindling public transport system. Excluding older people from financial services is also bad for business, as many would like to discuss investment opportunities to help build a more secure financial future.
Age Cymru’s Chief Executive Victoria Lloyd says: “We should view banking services as an essential service like water and electricity. Banks should consult with local communities when they intend to close a branch and outline the alternatives that are being put in place.” For more information about the campaign contact [email protected].
Back to work in ‘retirement’
The vast majority of older people who changed their retirement plans during the last 12 months did so because of the cost of living crisis, according to Age Cymru’s fourth annual survey What Matters to You?. Completed by almost 1200 older people, it found that 78% of those who changed their plans said they couldn’t afford to retire and their pension pots were getting smaller.
One took a career break due to caring responsibilities and now must build up their finances. Another said: “I need additional money to pay for a hip operation and dental care.” Some planned to return to paid work after retiring because they didn’t think they could live off their pension. “Rents are so high that it is impossible just to live on a state pension without working to supplement it.” The trend for older people to remain in or return to work was reflected in general statistics showing 61% of respondents were retired, down from 67% last year, while older people working full- or part-time increased from 23% to 36%.
Age Cymru works in partnership with Business in the Community (Cymru) – funded by the National Lottery Community Fund – to support over-50s in the workplace or seeking work through specially-designed seminars called Mid-Career Review webinars. These are free of charge to anyone over 50 in Wales, sharing information and resources, providing practical tips, and signposting to useful organisations to help attendees take action for a more positive future. The webinars cover career, work, health and wellbeing, financial wellbeing and work-life balance. To register for the webinars, email [email protected] or visit this website.
Christmas for older people
Christmas Day is the hardest day of the year for many older people. The Age Cymru Partnership has launched research and a fundraising campaign, ‘the hardest day of the year’, to highlight how lonely and isolating everyday life is for thousands of older people across Wales, especially during the festive period. (The Partnership consists of Age Cymru, Age Cymru Dyfed, Age Cymru Gwent, Age Cymru Gwynedd a Mon, Age Cymru Powys, and Age Cymru West Glamorgan).
Research by the Partnership found nearly 85,000 people aged 65 or over in Wales will eat Christmas dinner alone this year. More than 112,000 older people, over one in six, told the Partnership Christmas Day is their hardest day of the year, while nearly one in five (18%) said they wish they had someone to spend time with at Christmas.
Being alone at Christmas may be the result of loved ones having passed away, becoming housebound due to ill health, or family and friends moving away. From another survey, we heard about the impact of the pandemic. One respondent said: “The most significant issue is loneliness and isolation post-Covid. Relationships have changed. People seem less willing to interact.”
Victoria Lloyd says: “The Age Cymru Partnership is working hard to help alleviate loneliness throughout the whole year … However, our research clearly shows we need to do a lot more. And we can only do that with public support. So if you can donate or organise a fundraising event this Christmas please do so and help us to reach out to more older people.”