The loneliness of the long distance pensioner

Yesterday I visited Age Concern’s Chelmsford day centre to discover how real pensioners live. As one of the only people there under 80, and a phoney pensioner at that, I felt conspicuous. And as if confirming this, one elderly lady looked disapprovingly at me and I could have sworn muttered to her neighbour, “I hope she hasn’t come here to cadge a cheap cup of tea." Maybe it was my guilty imagination, but I braved it out and was directed to some tables where fifty pensioners were awaiting lunch.

I ended up spending much of my lunchtime with five ladies: Ivy, Mary, Iris, Grace and Rose. When I told them of my experiment, they laughed at me. “How can you really do it unless you’re a real pensioner?” Mary pointed out.

“People think all pensioners are rich,” complained Ivy. “They think we get everything for nothing.” In fact, the pension experience is different for everybody. Some people I spoke to had more money than others, depending on their benefits, savings or whether they have an occupational pension. Another person I spoke to later admitted quietly that they were fairly well off, with £600 a week coming in, but this was unusual.

“When things go wrong in the house [and you have to pay for repairs], that’s when it becomes difficult,” explains Iris.

“Everything seems to go wrong at once,” said Rose.

When I asked whether they put money away to pay for these occasions, Iris exclaimed, “How can you?!”

“The state pension isn’t enough,” said Ivy. “Everything keeps going up. It won’t cover the heating, the gas and electric. We’re all in our eighties and you have to keep the heating on otherwise the house is cold.”

Loneliness is another major issue. “I lost my husband 10 years ago,” says Rose. “It does get lonely. But you get used to it. We’re all in the same boat.” Luckily Rose’s two children live nearby and visit regularly.

Esme, another lady, tells me that having pets, such as her cat, helps combat loneliness.

And although Eric lives with his daughter she works so he is on his own during the day and attends the day centre daily because otherwise he suffers from loneliness. But it isn’t cheap. It costs £3 a day to attend the day centre – £15 a week – and some pensioners who aren’t on a direct bus route have to pay to travel there. Freda, who runs the centre, explains that it gets only £3,000 of borough funding each year but she has to employ a chef and kitchen staff to comply with hygiene regulations. Fortunately an investment bank recently donated £7,000 to pay for renovations to the hall, which is also rented out to keep the service afloat.

These pensioners seemed relatively fit. But even they were physically limited in their hobbies. “I used to do gardening but I can’t now,” explains Rose. “I’m too frightened of falling down and at our age, when you fall down you can’t get up on your own. My son does the gardening now and I miss it.”

And while I am able to pick and choose where I shop, everyone I spoke to relied on family or neighbours to do their food shopping because they can’t carry it themselves and no longer drive. “It’s carrying the shopping that’s the problem,” explains Rose. “You have to have a trolley and you don’t get bus conductors anymore to help you get it on and off the bus.”

Finding clothes can also be a problem – particularly underwear and blouses. Bon Marché and markets were popular and cheap places to shop. The pensioners are also eagerly anticipating new travel regulations which will allow them to travel around the UK for free on buses, not just around Essex.

But by far the most popular activity at the centre was bingo. 50p a go, it was virtually a religion. And when the afternoon session got underway, it was clear my new pensioner friends were deaf to any other queries I had! But I felt they’d really given a tiny glimpse into the life of a genuine pensioner.

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13 Responses to The loneliness of the long distance pensioner

  1. Christine says:

    You\’ve just met the pensioners who don\’t have a computer and aren\’t internet savvy. This means that they can\’t order groceries on-line to be delivered. They also can\’t take up offers of dual fuel on-line gas and electricity bills. They are also unable to handle the change of suppliers if their bills are too big.  Of course this means that they can\’t buy a new cooker or fridge cheap on-line or make use of freecycle.  Being able to get onto the internet pays for itself in money and information. It\’s the only way that I make my money go as far as it does. I notice that there is no mention of the charity shop at all. Mind you – the prices there have gone up so much it\’s just as cheap to buy new now.

  2. piper says:

    True, Christine, but there\’s a huge group of pensioners around that age group who simply aren\’t internet savvy and probably never will be. I\’m not being ageist here,  they simply don\’t have access to a computer or know how to use it. Plenty of people I know of my parents age group don\’t like doing financial transactions over the internet either. Not everyone trusts it.  And maybe they can\’t afford a computer or internet access either. Plus not everyone likes the idea of buying stuff from charity shops, as daft as it may sound. Interestingly, as you noticed, nobody mentioned shopping in them yesterday. I\’ve noticed the Cancer Research shops are relatively expensive now and they lay out all the clothes according to their colours like Top Shop!

  3. Christine says:

    Just to add to comments, my in laws are both in their 80s and are classed as reasonably well off due to work related pensions etc. but they would never use the internet for shopping as they don\’t trust it. As regards charity shop pricing – a short time ago it was noticed that some used items (shoes) in the local charity shop were priced higher than the original purchase price, needless to say they didn\’t sell.
     

  4. Ralph says:

    As a pensioner I would not use the internet as some days the only prople I see are other shoppers at my local supermarket

  5. Unknown says:

    no body should be alone let alone liveing alone people need company and that means people to talk to about stuff and going on hoildays it isnt a nice filling liveing on your own and no body or any one to talk to and it isnt

  6. seaspirit says:

    get a life. I volunteer, and spend a lot of time chatting to people all over the world on here, I am on a really basic pension
    so can\’t afford to go out much, swopped my t.v. for this. live with 2 cats for company. not bored, no time for it, have arthritus and my sight isn\’t good, but theres so much out there for free, you can do it on nothing, most places have a community bus these days if not get the council on it, use the volunteer shop not one, start one.

  7. Fiona says:

    I am a pensioner and  still trying to learn how to use a computer and have so far made quite a few friends on the internet I would never have met had I not bought a secondhand computer on ebay through a friend. The computer has given me a further interest. I am partly disabled and find the computer a great help, it has been a severe learning curve and I  still make terrible mistakes on it and could cheerfully throw it out of the window sometimes. Charity shops have become very expensive over the last few years but there are still a lot of decent bargains to be had in them if you check them out regularly. I have bought several things on ebay and have saved quite a bit by doing so. As some other people have said the charity shops have changed over the years and bargains are not as plentiful as they used to be. Banking on-line is something that a lot of people are afraid of myself included, recent events of mishandled and lost information do not help to build up confidence in this system.    Fiona

  8. sylvia says:

    I\’m a widow \’ the widows pension is less than £4000 a year. £1500 for council rates, £1500 for heating, without all the other bills. So actually I have nil to live on except for small savings my husband left which are gradually disappearing. When they\’re gone what will I do?

  9. Fiona-Elizabeth says:

    you really havent got anything if u havent got ur health and independance. Why is it that pensioners just seem 2 be forgotten by the broader community. Money for basic neccesities just shouldnt be an issue. Hats off 2 u guys

  10. piper says:

    I\’m really impressed with pensioners who make an effort to learn how to use computers and the internet. My Dad had never used one in his life until a couple of years ago and now is a whizz at finding stuff on the net. Way to go Seaspirit – you are a true inspiration.
     
    No name – how can you manage on the widow\’s pension?!
     
     

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