To mark International Day for Eradication of Poverty, Age Action published Spotlight on Income in Older Age—The State of Ageing in Ireland 2023 which reveals the importance of social protection for us all in older age. 3 in 10 people aged 66+ rely on social protection for over 90% of their income and a further 4 in 10 people aged 66+ rely on it for more than half of their income. As a result, older people highly value the Irish state pension, as well as ‘precious’ supports such as Medical Cards and the Free Travel Pass.
This is the second publication in Age Action’s State of Ageing series, following Reframing Ageing: The State of Ageing in Ireland 20221 and is supported by the Community Foundation Ireland.
Age Action values the lived experience of older people to inform our work. We invited the participation of older people in this report through focus groups and a survey about income and living costs of older stakeholders in hardcopy as well as online (n=137). The age of respondents to the survey ranged from 63 to 95. We heard from people who lived alone, or with their partner, carer, children or grandchildren. Most respondents were homeowners, but some rented and others lived in houses owned by family members. Most respondents lived in urban areas and some rurally. Women were overrepresented but over a third of respondents were men. The desk research was also informed by Age Action’s lived experience surveys from earlier in 2023 (n=89), 2022 (n=244) and 2021 (n=271). Focus groups and one-to-one conversations on the topic of income and living costs were held in mid-2023 with a total of 30 participants, which provided nuance and depth of understanding to inform the report. Participants were a mix of ages from late fifties to late eighties. We acknowledge the participation of older people who contributed to the research and the support of COPE Galway in organising focus groups. Quotes throughout the report are the words of participants in the focus groups or survey responses, unless otherwise indicated. Alongside the qualitative research, deskbased research was conducted using data sourced from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), Revenue and other public sources.
Looking beyond the annual budget cycle, Age Action’s Spotlight on Income in Older Age sets out to tell the story of older persons’ experience of income and living costs, using their own words as well as drawing on the relevant facts and figures. Age Action’s latest report shows just how important the state social protection system is for our incomes in older age. Ireland provides valuable social protection supports to its older population, from the state pension system and supplementary payments through to public transport, housing and healthcare. However, Age Action’s report shows that poverty, deprivation, and income inadequacy are facts of life or many of us who rely on the state pension, which is the second lowest level of income replacement in the EU. In addition to benchmarking social protection rates to 34% of average earnings, a comprehensive cost of ageing study should be commissioned by government to strengthen social protection and public service planning, so they are made adequate and sustainable into the future.
For example, the Irish pension system is highly reliant on homeownership which reduces the need for a weekly supplementary payment in older age. Census 2022 found that the absolute number of older renters doubled since 2016. With nearly 10% of those aged 50-64 renting in 2022, we know that the proportion of people who are renting in the private rental sector in older age will increase, indicating that many of us could be relying on the state to support our housing needs in older age.
In the video below we hear the lived experience of Annie Curbelo Lang, from Boyle Co. Roscommon who is working part time to pay her rent. Annie receives a non-contributory state pension payment, the Living Alone Increase and the Fuel Allowance.
Coping with one off costs
The Spotlight on Income in Older Age report shows that while social protection keeps many out of poverty, many people find it difficult to meet one off costs. New costs associated with older age, in areas such as health, transport and housing are often large one-off sums that older people cannot cover with their modest weekly incomes, which causes significant distress and anxiety. Surveys show that a fifth of older couples and two fifths of older persons living alone could not cope with a once-off expense of over €1,200.
While the state pension is the bedrock of income in older age, many people still struggle to live on it, especially when dealing with new and emerging costs associated with older age. Age Action’s report found that many older people will deprive themselves of basics like heating or socialising to save some money for the next big expense that they fear coming down the line.
In the video below, Patricia O'Mahony, who receives a non-contributory state pension payment, the Living Alone Increase and the Fuel Allowance, explains how health care costs eat into her income.
The report demonstrates that a secure income in older age is not only essential for basics like food and energy, but all measures of quality of life in older age. Incomes often determine what opportunities we have when it comes to looking after our homes and our health, maintaining our independence, and getting involved with our communities and wider society. Older people who participated in the research emphasised the importance of non-cash supports like the Free Travel Pass and the Medical Card in helping them meet basic needs. The state pension keeps many people out of poverty and is essential to supporting our dignity, autonomy, and inclusion as we age, but many older persons told us how they worry about losing some of these supports or having them reduced, which creates a lot of anxiety and undermines the security we should enjoy when we are older.
In the video below Mary Donnelly, from Galway, explains that social protection is her only source of income but even with the state pension, Fuel Allowance, Living Alone Increase and supports such as the Free Travel Pass, she is still at risk of social exclusion.
The report confirms cumulative advantages and disadvantages shape how we experience older age, including choices, economic advantages and disadvantages, and access to quality public services.