A tough year aheadZenda Green, an adviser on the Later Life Planning team at the charity Age UK Barnet, which supports people over 55 in the borough, reflects on what she has learnt in this pandemic and what the future might hold.
“It’s going to be a tough year ahead. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a feeling of shock among the people calling us. Their lives were turned upside down. Many were told to shield but lived alone, had no one to get their shopping and were really struggling. Others couldn’t see their loved ones or visit care homes. They were lost really.
I’ll never forget my first call from a lady whose husband had died of Covid-19. He had gone into hospital and she didn’t get to say goodbye to him. She didn’t know if she could collect his things, couldn’t find his wedding ring and didn’t know if she could see his body.
This was the first of many of these calls – it was incredibly emotional and it never gets easier. Every death is a loss.
People’s concerns have changed as the pandemic has gone on. In the beginning, most older people were concerned about how to get their shopping and medication. Some were also worried about being on their own and coping financially. At the moment, the big issues are getting help at home, benefits and money, neighbour disputes and concerns about getting vaccines.
Neighbour disputes are a growing problem. People are at home all the time, getting under each other’s feet, so have been falling out with each other – be it noise issues and boundary disputes, or arguments about plants and trees overhanging into other people’s gardens.
Money continues to be a big concern. Many people we speak to have slipped through the net because they don’t understand the Covid-19 guidelines and the support they’re entitled to. If they come to us, we can do a benefits check and take them through the process of applying.
Some people get caught out when moving from one benefit to another. For instance, someone coming up to retirement receiving a working-age benefit needs to apply for state retirement benefit three or four months before they retire. Usually, they’ll get a reminder letter from the Department for Work and Pensions, but many people aren’t getting these letters at the moment. So their working-age benefit stops leaving them with nothing.
Unsurprisingly, we’ve had a lot more calls from older people about loneliness and social isolation. When someone calls we get to the bottom of what they need so that we can refer them to the appropriate organisation or one of Age UK Barnet’s clubs, activities or services.
But we’ve got a lot to think about in the future. This pandemic has had a serious impact on older people’s health and wellbeing and, even after the vaccination roll-out, many people will be frightened to come out into the world - particularly people living on their own who don’t have anybody to rely on. They have been inside for so long they are going to need support to live independently again and to go out and socialise.
We’re also going to be incredibly busy when people come off the furlough scheme, many people may not have a job to go back to – which will mean more advice and benefits checks.
Overall I feel proud of how many people we’ve been able to help this last year, with the support of some amazing volunteers. It’s also heartwarming how the community stepped up and how local services adapted and diversified to cope with the changing demands. But it’s going to be a tough year ahead.
Age UK Barnet’s Later Life Planning service can help with welfare benefits, pension, debt information, health, housing, accessing social services, advice for carers, wills, lasting power of attorney, bereavements, grants and much more. Link to later life planning page here
Check out our website for a link to all Age UK Barnet’s services and activities – we can help with shopping, essential jobs in the home, friendly chats over the phone, help with your laptop or tablet, footcare and online activities such as singing, exercise, crafts, cookery and book club. Website link here