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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Maryam Zakir-Hussain

On the Breadline: Elderly won’t heat the house because they’re terrified of the bills

Grateful: Billy, 92, says the support offered by the Rainbow Foundation gives him something to look forward to

(Picture: ES Composite)

A diet of cereal and bread is becoming all too common among the disadvantaged elderly in rural Wrexham, Wales. Socially isolated and too frail to go outdoors alone, they sit in the cold and live off one meal a day to try to save money on gas and electric.

“Their clothes look looser each time I see them,” said Hayley Scott, community agent for the Welsh charity Rainbow Foundation. “They’re cold all the time. They layer up with jumpers and blankets but they still sit there shivering. They need to heat the house but they won’t because they’re terrified of the bills. Even their clothes are dirty because they don’t want to spend money on washing.”


Seeing these people lose both weight and cognitive ability because of financial anxiety is difficult for Hayley. “Because they are so hungry, they can’t hold proper conversations or think straight. Their mood is low and their anxiety is high.”

The Rainbow Foundation works to fight malnutrition in the elderly in Wales by delivering cooking classes and warm places for the elderly to eat together in a safe community environment. The charity is one of the organisations we will be seeking to fund in our On the Breadline Christmas Appeal in partnership with Comic Relief.

Ms Scott added: “Some people are extremely socially isolated, and can’t leave the house because they are too frail, but they crave company and conversation. It means so much to them just to have someone checking in on them and being their friend.”

Community agents like Hayley also take the elderly to healthcare appointments as well as take them shopping for food and clothes.

Hayley also spends a lot of time doing paperwork for her clients, such as meter readings as many are too frail physically to check the meter themselves. “We review what benefits they are getting and make sure they are claiming all the benefits they can,” she said.

Billy is one of the many elderly people the charity supports. “When I first met Billy, he didn’t know how he could afford a pint of milk,” Hayley said. “He doesn’t have any surviving family and people were taking advantage of him by pretending to be his friend, but stealing his money.”


The team at Rainbow Foundation helped Billy get to grips with his finances, but the 92-year-old is most grateful for the emotional and social support they have given him. “When I had a fall and hit my head, they took me to the hospital to get checked,” Billy said. Without the Rainbow volunteers, he could have been waiting 12 hours for an ambulance.


Billy added: “Loneliness is the worst thing. I’d be upset if I hadn’t come here. I’m on my own so it’s something to look forward to every week.”

Caroline Tudor-James, the charity’s CEO, said: “We’re trying to subsidise our community transport so we can keep our services running for people who are really struggling to come. Social eating is important because it increases their ability to stay mobile.”

An important gap the charity is trying to fill is funding for volunteers, who are at the core of Rainbow’s outreach services. “Our volunteers are also feeling the pinch from the cost-of-living crisis, so we need funds to subsidise their transport costs when they take the elderly out. We are dealing with vulnerable older people all the time, but in order for us to keep the elderly safe, we have to look after our volunteers.”

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