Older people continue to fare best from recession

CSO figures show one in 10 over-65s were living on breadline in 2011


New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the elderly have suffered financially less than other age groups during the recession.

The average incomes of those aged 65 years and older decreased by 5 per cent between 2009 and 2011, less than the rest of the adult population. This partially reversed large increases in the incomes of the elderly during the boom period 2004 and 2009.

Between 2004 and 2011, the average income of an elderly person in the State grew by 41 per cent, almost four times more than the increase of those aged between 18-64.

Between 2004 and 2011, the proportion of senior citizens’ income generated from earnings decreased by one third. Just 16 per cent income came from earnings in 2011.

Much of this was offset by social transfers. As a share of total income, social transfers increased from 57 per cent in 2004 to 63 per cent in 2011.

The figures come from the CSO’s Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) in Ireland which covers four years: 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2011

The “at risk of poverty” rate has collapsed for the elderly over the period, falling from 27.1 per cent of those aged 65 and over in 2004 to 9.7 per cent in 2011. Despite the severity of the recession, the CSO said that “there was no statistically significant change in the rate between 2009, 2010 and 2011”.

Although the rate of enforced deprivation - being unable to afford two or more basic items - recorded “no significant change” during the recession, it did not improve during the boom years.

The consistent poverty rate for the elderly was the only indicator to show a statistically signifigant increase during the recession. It fell from 3.9 per cent of the over 64 population in 2004 to 0.9 per cent in 2010, but more than doubled to 1.9 per cent in 2011.

An analysis of the income distribution of the elderly from richest to poorest showed that those in the lowest fifth of the income scale were largely dependent on social transfers as a source of income. In 2011, over 85 per cent of the income of this group was made up of social transfers, while just over 37 per cent of the income of those in the richest fifth came from social transfers.

In 2011, as in other years, elderly people living alone had the lowest average weekly income when compared with those living in a household with another elderly person and those living in ‘other household compositions’ - €355.50, €430.73 and €429.98 respectively.

In 2011, just over one third of the elderly were widowed, divorced or separated. The majority of the elderly were retired or on home duties - 52 per cent and 35 perc ent respectively - with just over 7 per cent at work.

More than 87 per cent were living in owner-occupied accommodation.

Even though only 7 per cent of the elderly described their health status as ‘bad or very bad’, more than 56 per cent said that they suffered from a chronic illness or a health problem. Almost 44 per cent were covered by private medical insurance.

Age Action said it is not surprised at the rises in poverty among older people and warned the situation has worsened since the data was compiled.

“There are new charges and rising prices which have to be met from these declining incomes. These increased taxes, charges and costs have escalated since these statistics were gathered, leaving many older people seriously struggling to make ends meet,” said spokesman Eamon Timmins.

“Property tax, a trebling of the prescription charge and soaring energy prices are just some of the increased costs which have been introduced since 2011, with older people having to pay them from a declining income. The increased costs are on unavoidable elements of their cost of living - a roof over their head, essential medication and heat.”