30 Jul 2018

Number of hardship grants given to over-65s increases 50% in 5 years

7:06 am on 30 July 2018

Pensioners are increasingly turning to Work and Income for help to pay for essentials like food, power and housing.

Depressed elderly widow sitting alone at home

The Ministry of Social Development said many of the 23,000 grants allocated in the 'other' category last year were for emergency housing. Photo: 123RF

Figures from the Ministry of Social Development show that in the last five years there's been a 50 percent increase in the number of hardship grants being handed out to over-65s.

Last year, Work and Income handed out nearly 56,000 grants, up from 36,000 in 2013.

Age Concern Auckland chief executive Kevin Lamb said he was not surprised.

"The costs of living are going up at a higher and faster rate than the level of superannuation," he said.

"We're finding that people perhaps who maybe five years ago were struggling to make ends meet, but were just about coping, and are now just tipped over the edge where they no longer can meet their own financial needs just from their superannuation alone."

Auckland Action Against Poverty's Kathleen Paraha said more and more older people were coming to them for help as well.

But many were reluctant to take that step, she said.

"They've worked all their lives to feed their families, to clothe and house their families," she said.

"They feel inadequate that they can't fend for themselves. There goes their pride, because they're used to sorting themselves out."

Hardship grants for food have jumped from 9000 in 2013 to almost 16,000 last year.

But there has been an even bigger increase in the number of grants that fall into the 'other' category, which have gone from 14,000 to almost 23,000.

The Ministry of Social Development said much of that increase was grants for emergency housing.

Mr Lamb said that was because more and more older people were renting, which was less secure than owning your own home.

"We have cases of people who have been living in the same home for 20, 30 years and all of a sudden that home disappears because it's been sold for development.

"They find themselves in very, very difficult situations and they need emergency housing or they need assistance with finding housing at very short notice."

Mr Lamb said it was going to get worse in the short term, with the growing elderly population.

"We need to ensure that we increase that rate of development of emergency housing, of affordable housing, of social housing.

"That has to be a very, very aggressive policy of providing accommodation for the needs of people, who really need it desperately urgently."

Mr Lamb said there had been positive signals from the government on these sorts of issues, but it would take time for those developments to come to fruition.

In the meantime, he said, hardship grants were likely to continue to rise.

Glenys' story

Glenys, 72, lives in Māngere. Her only income is her pension of around $400 a week.

A few months ago, she went to Work and Income for a food grant.

Her aunty had just died and Glenys had to help the family out with funeral and other costs.

"They didn't have enough money either, so between me, my son and a couple of other parts of my family, we helped them out."

But that money came out of Glenys' precious pension.

And it meant she was left short when it came time to do a supermarket shop.

When unexpected things happen, Glenys said it could be tough surviving on just the pension.

"It still is hard, but I'm managing to get by and things like that, and I think I'm doing quite good now."

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