Scottish Care & Age Scotland – Winter Support for Older People Statement

Organisations that represent older people in Scotland are calling on the UK and the Scottish Government to support older people through this challenging winter.

This winter will be as challenging as ever as we continue to respond to Covid-19 and the emergence of the Omicron variant. The Older People Network UK, a group of organisations representing older people across the UK, has recently released a statement calling for increased winter support for older people. This group, chaired by the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, includes Scottish Care and Age Scotland, along with Age UK, Age Cymru, Age Northern Ireland , Independent Age, and the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland. Their joint statement highlights the following key issues across the UK:

  • Energy Prices and Fuel Poverty
  • Access to Food
  • Financial Entitlements
  • Tackling Loneliness and Isolation
  • Access to Health and Social Care Services

On the back of this statement, Scottish Care and Age Scotland are further calling on the UK Government and the Scottish Government to take the action necessary to support older people through this most challenging of winters.

Energy Prices and Fuel Poverty

Many older people across the country already live in fuel poverty, and the increased price of gas over the past months and the cost implications for customers of energy supplier which has gone out of business, has resulted in considerably higher fuel bills for many older people.

The Omicron variant and social restrictions also mean that many older people will be spending more time at home, increasing the need to heat their homes for longer. Without further support, many older peoples’ health and wellbeing will deteriorate, which will lead to further demand for our already stretched health and social care services.

National and devolved governments should increase the level of financial support available to older people, especially for those living on lower incomes, to ensure that they can keep their home safe and warm.

Access to Food

The risks posed by the Omicron variant means that older people may feel uncomfortable leaving their houses to go into supermarkets or use public transport to access food. The government should make a call to action to communities across Scotland to support older friends, neighbours, relatives and those in need, by ensuring that they have the food and medicines required to stay well over the winter.

Should food supply or supermarket delivery slots become limited, the UK Government and the Scottish Government should ensure that supermarket chains prioritise older people and other vulnerable groups for delivery slots and specified store-entry times.

Financial Entitlements

One effective way to support the most financially vulnerable older people over the winter is to increase the uptake of Pension Credit for those who are eligible.

Northern Ireland has successfully launched the ‘Make the Call’ campaign, which improved the level of uptake of Pension Credit and other financial entitlements. The UK and the Scottish Government should look into implementing a similar campaign. This campaign needs to be rolled out quickly and applications should be fast-tracked to put money directly into the pockets of some of the most vulnerable older people.

Tackling Loneliness and Isolation

Winter can often be lonely for many older people, especially for those living themselves or without families nearby. Whilst there are help and support available, such as befriending helplines, the Government should look at investing in widening the availability of these services and raising awareness of this support to the public and older people.

Access to Health and Social Care Services

The Covid-19 vaccine booster campaign and the continuing rise of Covid-19 cases will be placing increasing pressure on our health and care services. Some planned and routine treatments have been postponed and these treatments must be scheduled as soon as possible to minimise the impact on older people’s health and wellbeing. More also needs to be done to support older people while they wait for surgery.

Many older people will require continued access to social care support, in the community and residential care, including those who are ready to leave the hospital and return home. The social care sector is currently facing a workforce shortage, and the Government should utilise all available resources to retain and recruit staff into this sector.

To further alleviate pressure on health and social care services, investment needs to be made in local community and voluntary services to support older people’s physical and mental health. The Government should invest in these services to allow older people to stay safe and well at home.

Dr Donald Macaskill, CEO of Scottish Care said:

“Winter is always a time of real challenge and pressure for our older population and especially for those who are supported to remain in their own homes or in a care home. This joint approach to the UK and the Scottish Government is a call for even greater focus on the needs of our older citizens. Few of us can remember a time of such challenge not least in social care support for older people and we hope that the suggestions in this statement will serve together to ensure that the right actions are taken to alleviate some of the worst harms that older people are experiencing. We must do all that we can to avert the potential tragedy and loss of life which may result if people go without food or heat and warmth because of poverty.”

Brian Sloan, CEO of Age Scotland added:

“There is no doubt that this winter older people are facing considerable challenges. The increasing cost of living and their imminent energy bills are causing high levels of concern and desperation, particularly for the extraordinary numbers of people on low income or in poverty. Many thousands of older people remain lonely, disconnected and anxious about this virus’s impact on their wellbeing. We cannot just wait out this crisis.  It is incumbent on governments to act now and take a range of actions to support those who are really in need.