Targeted support needed for older people among ethnic minorities, says charity

Language barriers, mistrust of Government and a lack of awareness of financial support are leading to older people from minority ethnic communities missing out on help and facing poverty in later life, a charity said.

Independent Age said it is clear some older people are facing “unique barriers which must be overcome” as the organisation called on the Government to “do more to rebuild trust and proactively target support” at a wider range of communities.

It repeated its call for the appointment of a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing in England and Scotland, a role it said “would ensure that a diverse range of voices in later life are championed”.

The role already exists in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The charity said its analysis of previously-released official Government statistics showed that 29% of Asian or Asian/British older people and 25% of Black/African/Caribbean/black British people aged 65 and over are living in poverty – higher than the overall pensioner poverty rate of 18%.

Older people from black and Asian communities are less likely to own their homes and are more likely to rent in the social and private sectors, the charity found in its analysis, adding that people who rent in later life are more likely to be at risk of living in poverty in older age because many face high costs and insecurity.

The organisation said that with the latest census data showing that older populations are growing faster in these communities, the Government must “take steps to address the shared issues faced by all older people in poverty, alongside the unique obstacles challenging those from minority ethnic communities”.

In 15 interviews with older people and community organisations, the charity said it found common issues.

It said language differences were an obstacle to employment opportunities and engagement with the social security system for some, with people struggling to access appropriate information about what welfare benefits they might be entitled to, while some others were victims of racism and discrimination which could deter them from trying to access support again.

The charity also noted that “alarmingly, people talked about their distrust of the Government, and how that prevents them applying for support, as they fear that the Government might investigate their residency status and wrongly deport them”.

They said this problem was “particularly true for older British Caribbean people who have been affected by the Windrush scandal”.

Other issues included a lack of awareness of some government benefits, including Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance (which helps with extra costs if a person has a disability which requires someone to help look after them), and some people not being aware of how to access benefits and which advice agencies to go to.

Morgan Vine (pictured), head of policy and influencing at Independent Age, said: “While older people on a low income across the UK face many similar challenges, especially as the cost of living continues to stretch people’s budgets to breaking point, our findings clearly show that minoritised ethnic communities are facing some unique barriers which must be overcome.

“Our older population is growing and becoming more diverse. Independent Age wants everyone to be able to live with dignity, we don’t want anyone in later life to be left behind.

“Yet many share with our advisers that they are forced to skip meals or are afraid to turn the lights on.

“The experiences that were shared with us demonstrate clearly that the Government must do more to rebuild trust and proactively target support at a wider range of communities, including taking the lead in breaking down obstacles that are stopping eligible people from receiving the financial support they are entitled to.”

End of life charity Marie Curie said the figures make for “sad reading but come as no surprise to us”.

Rini Jones, senior policy and research manager at the organisation, said: “Data from our Dying in Poverty campaign shows that almost 27% of pensioners from a minoritised ethnic group are dying in poverty, which is double that of pensioners from white ethnic groups.

“The systemic racism and barriers minoritised ethnic groups face all their lives don’t miraculously improve when they’re dying. They actually get worse.

“We agree that the Government must do more to understand and address these shocking inequalities and support calls for a commissioner for older people and ageing in England and Scotland who could address inequities at the end of life.”

A Government spokesperson said its cost-of-living support package “worth around £3,300 per household is providing vital support to pensioners and people of all ages and backgrounds”.

They added: “Alongside this, in April we delivered the biggest state pension increase in history and we continue to work with stakeholders in local communities to increase awareness of pension credit, with our recent pension credit campaign helping drive the volume of claims to an all-time high.”

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