AS many as 200,000 Yorkshire pensioners – about one in five of the region’s older population – live below the poverty line.
Charities have said more elderly people cannot afford nutritious food and live in single rooms of their homes because they are cannot keep up with the increasing costs of central heating.
They also warned that the NHS will be forced to bear the brunt if basic health and care needs are not addressed in the community.
Lesley Thornton, operational manager of Holbeck Elderly Aid (HEA) in Leeds, said the situation has worsened over recent months and charities such as HEA, themselves squeezed, are struggling to meet demand.
“Sometimes people don’t turn the central heating on and a lot of them stay in one room and will go to sleep on the settee in that room downstairs because they can’t afford to heat the rest of the house,” she said. “There will just be a gas fire keeping them warm.
“It is also very difficult to encourage people to eat healthily if an apple costs 80 pence and chips cost 40 pence. Fresh fruit and veg is expensive and difficult to get around here. We have no supermarket at all.
“Everything has been squeezed a lot more and things have got worse. We are trying not to put our prices up because we don’t want to lose sight of the fact we’re a charity. But the cost of running the office and car costs are going up.”
Age UK warned that in rural parts of region, such as North Yorkshire, some older people cannot travel to see their families or get to the shops as they cannot afford to run cars.
Jane Farquharson, chief executive officer of Age UK Knaresborough, said: “Somebody needs to look at the whole picture in North Yorkshire. It’s grim.
“Some older people can’t get out to get food – sometimes it’s the chippy or nothing – and transport is also a massive problem across North Yorkshire. It’s very rural and people can become very isolated and are not able to see their families or get to the shops.
“Rising fuel costs are a big factor and free bus passes are utterly useless if you have mobility problems. Community transport is being squeezed and squeezed.”
Mrs Farquharson also warned of an NHS crisis. She said: “We are going to see a massive burden on the NHS. If we get a flu outbreak or an outbreak of norovirus, I can see the hospitals getting completely overwhelmed.
“It will be because there has been no prior intervention, no one keeping an eye on people, getting them to take their medication or making sure they have their shopping.
“The NHS is going to be absolutely swamped with what I call the little things – dehydration and constipation. It’s going to cost us a huge amount more in the long-run. It’s not North Yorkshire council’s fault they have no money but it really needs a great top-down look at the whole problem and someone to come up with some innovative ideas.”
In York, the number of people aged 85 and over is due to rise by 9.6 per cent between 2011 and 2015.
Facing budget cuts across the board, York council has introduced a six-week programme for older people recently out of hospital, intended to help them manage at home on their own.
Councillor Tracey Simpson- Laing, cabinet member for health, housing, and adult social services, said: “We have reablement grants, which involve six weeks of intensive work to help people gain the skills they need to go back to their own home. This is so much more cost effective than someone living in hospital and waiting to go into a home.
“We are modernising our elderly persons homes, which will be cheaper for us to run. Some of the money we are going to save we will invest in helping people stay at home, by installing disabled facilities and new baths and showers.”
Mike Padgham, chairman of the UK Homecare Association, says may patients stay longer than necessary in hospital because councils cannot support them.
“The local authority tries to save money by keeping people in hospital, as money to pay for them here comes under the NHS budget. But they end up putting more cost on the NHS, which is not the best place for a lot of these elderly people to be. This ends up costing the taxpayer more – it’s economics of a madhouse. A shift of resources has got to happen.”
Section 1, Comment: Page 16.