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Over a million pensioners in food poverty, says report

More than 1.5 million British pensioners are now living in food poverty, with the situation expected to worsen this winter, according to new research.

The Centre for Economics and Business says a quarter of over-65s have had to make cutbacks on food over the past three years, and over one million are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition because they are struggling to afford basic nutritious food.

The reason is that while the cost of living has continued to rise, incomes have not kept pace. Increasing food prices in particular have hit the elderly the most.

The study shows over-65s will spend an average of £699 on food between October and December this year, that's an increase of £138 compared to the same quarter five years ago. And by 2018, there will be an additional increase of £297 on top of that bill.  It all adds up to the over-65s being harder hit than any other demographic.

The group that will have seen the most dramatic percentage rise in their winter food bill since 2008 is that of single-person households dependent on state pensions, that is, single pensioners on the lowest incomes. But Chris Mould from Christian based food bank charity The Trussell Trust told Premier's Marcus Jones during the News Hour why he thinks the issue's not just affecting the elderly.

The research commends food banks for the considerable work they have been doing in tackling food poverty across the UK, but suggest the relative immobility of the elderly means that they are less likely to have access to a food bank than others.

The average number of people fed by each food bank in London has risen from 68 in 2009 to 850 in 2013. However, the same report notes that the elderly in London represent less than 1% of food bank users across the city, at odds with the high levels of malnutrition reported in elderly people on hospital admission in boroughs such as Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth.

An estimated 90,000 elderly people in London suffer from malnutrition.

Meanwhile, a quarter of elderly people say they wouldn't ask anyone for help. Richard Humphreys from Christian charity His Church tells Premier he wouldn't want anyone to be put off receiving food gifts from groups like his.

By the end of 2013, food and utility prices in the UK are expected to stand at record high levels, placing significant pressure on household budgets and increasing food and fuel poverty problems, according to the report. 

In the colder months, households tend to consume more food and utilities than at other times of the year, meaning that the rising cost of essentials will be strongly felt by the elderly this winter with many facing a trade-off between eating and heating.

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