Pensioner incomes fall by eight per cent

Pensioner incomces in Northern Ireland have fallen.
Pensioner incomces in Northern Ireland have fallen.

Pensioner incomes have fallen eight per cent to £385 per week - but even that figure masks the reality of the hardship faced by older people in Northern Ireland, according to the charity Age NI.

Figures released by the Department for Social Development show that the income for our senior citizens in 2011-2012 fell, compared to the previous year.

While the average weekly figure closes in on £400, a representative from Age NI warned people not to take this at face value.

Duane Farrell, Policy Director at Age NI said there are some older people in Ulster living below the £148-a-week pension credit level set by the Department of Work and Pensions.

Among the 15,000 calls every year to their helpline, Mr Farrell said some are from people genuinely very worried for their futures.

“People are struggling to survive - that is the big issue we are hearing from people,” he told the News Letter. “The main problem is the cost of fuel. People are thinking if they have a few bob extra in summer they will put that aside for the winter when they could face a choice between buying a tin of soup and turning up their heater by a few bars.”

Pensioners here could be living on up to £1,000 a week all the way down to the lowest level of £148 and perhaps below, Duane said.

“It is important that we do not look at older people as one homogenous population,” he said. “You have the Alan Sugars and then the people who cannot afford to heat their homes.”

Earlier this year the pensioners’ parliament called on ministers at Stormont to boost the fuel poverty allowance, which currently stands at a payment of between £100 and £300 depending on age.

The issue of pensioners being unaware of or reluctant to check what benefits they are entitled to is one that accounted for around £1.5m in unclaimed entitlements last year, Mr Farrell said.

The cost of food is an issue right across society, Mr Farrell added, but said they hoped supermarkets could tailor promotions for elderly people.

Pensioner couples here have the highest weekly benefit income of all UK regions, the report also showed, while single pensioners are on a par with England, Scotland and Wales.