DROPPING December temperatures and the shortest, darkest days signal an end but also a beginning. The start of a new year is a chance to make resolutions to do better, to change and to take action.

With 2024 fast approaching, next week, the Scottish Government will announce its Budget for the year ahead. This year has been a tough one for many of us. Although the rate of inflation for many essential household items is now rising less fast, prices across the board are still too high and the most financially vulnerable in our society continue to be deeply affected by the cost of living crisis.

As a charity supporting older people in financial hardship, we hear daily about its impact on them, stories of people washing in cold water with a flannel, heating only one room and skipping meals.

With a shocking 150,000 older people in Scotland now living in poverty, this is the reality for many across the nation. It’s not the retirement any of us dream of and it’s not even close to an acceptable way to live, no matter what age you are. One in seven older people in Scotland now lives in poverty, an increase of a quarter in the last decade. Tragically, it’s likely this number will continue to rise, affecting more of the oldest in our society, unless we see real action to stop it now.

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This is why it is vital that the Scottish Government plays its part and announces urgent measures to halt the devastating rise of poverty in later life in Tuesday’s Budget.

Poverty in later life is an awful situation to find yourself in. Earlier this year, we launched our research report Not enough to live on: Pensioner poverty in Scotland. It found that more than three in five older people (61%) on a low income were cutting back on food and drink, while 74% said they were cutting back on using their heating.

During interviews for the report, we spoke to a man with a long-term health condition who was being forced to use a food bank, while one woman said she was drinking coffee instead of feeding herself so she could afford to have her grandchildren round for supper once a fortnight.

One interviewee said she finds it “impossible to keep warm … this house is absolutely freezing”. Another said they wait until the temperature becomes “unbearable” before turning the heating on in the evening.

We speak to older people in financial hardship who say they don’t know how they got here. They feel trapped, like there’s no way out and no hope of improvement. But the Scottish Government can offer light at the end of the tunnel. We’re calling on it to include a range of measures in the Budget to urgently tackle pensioner poverty and give a voice to those in later life.

The National: The Finance Secretary will deliver the Scottish Budget early next weekThe Finance Secretary will deliver the Scottish Budget early next week (Image: PA)

Firstly, it should include a long-term strategy to tackle pensioner poverty. Only a published plan with measurable targets will bring down the rising tide of poverty in older age.

The Budget must also include a commitment to uprating all devolved social security payments and the Scottish Welfare Fund – which helps people in crisis and in need of extra costs to cover an emergency such as food or heating costs or household appliances – and the Discretionary Housing Payment, which tops up Housing Benefit if it does not cover your full rent, by at least inflation.

Older people with money worries need an adequate income to live on, one that keeps them out of poverty.

Finally, the Scottish Government should legislate to introduce an Older People’s Commissioner (OPC). More than one million people in Scotland are already over 65 and by 2040 this will rise to 1.4 million, or one in four.

This major demographic shift requires bold action and a commissioner would be a voice for older people, including those in financial hardship.

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Not only are these measures vital for the large number of Scottish older people living in poverty, many are extremely popular among the wider public.

Polling commissioned by Independent Age found that a staggering 92% of Scottish people aged 65 and over support the introduction of a long-term strategy to reduce poverty among older people.

An even larger 94% would back the government in providing more support with housing costs for older people on a low income.

It’s clear. Older people across Scotland want action on poverty in later life. Next week, the Scottish Government has the opportunity to bring down poverty among people aged over 65.

With intense focus and bold and decisive action, 2024 can be the year that we see pensioner poverty reduce and bring hope back to thousands of older Scots.