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New Research Shows Hardship of Older People During Recession is Under-Reported

Dec 2012

“Older people’s finances are not regarded as a problem, but look deeper and genuine hardship is there”

Tuesday, 4 December, 2012: A new report suggests that many older people are experiencing real hardship during Ireland’s recession, but that this remains largely hidden from public view. This suggests caution is necessary when interpreting official statistics, which show deprivation and poverty rates for pensioner households to be at an all-time low. The NUI Galway research report‘Deprivation and its Measurement in Later Life’ was undertaken by the University’s Irish Centre for Social Gerontology. It was funded through the Irish Research Council with support from the Department of Social Protection.

Led by Professor Thomas Scharf, Director of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway, the research tries to understand how older people respond to the 11-item basic deprivation index used in official poverty statistics. Re-analysis of available national datashows that measured deprivation depends in large part on the choice of indicators used. Some indicators used in official measures are less relevant to older people than other population groups. This was reinforced in focus groups and interviews with a diverse sample of older people. As a result, older people are less likely to be identified as deprived.

In launching the report, Professor Scharf said: “Older people’s finances are not regarded as a problem, but look deeper and genuine hardship is there. Our research suggests that older people respond differently to standard deprivation measures than other population groups. This means that reported levels of deprivation may under-estimate the actual experience of poverty and deprivation amongst older people.” Professor Scharf feels that a new, stand-alone deprivation index for older people is needed for use in official statistics.

Many research participants held a relatively narrow view of poverty, linking this to an inability to afford basic household items. Participants were generally more likely to identify as necessities items relating to housing and accommodation, food and food quality, household bills and clothing. By contrast, taking a holiday away from home or being able to afford to replace worn-out furniture were less likely to be regarded as essential.

The research shows that poverty and deprivation continue to affect the lives of many older people in Ireland. While the value of state pensions has been maintained, a number of people who took part in the research were struggling to cope with the loss of other forms of support at a time when additional demands were being placed on their finances. In particular, providing financial support to adult children and grandchildren during the recession featured in several participants’ accounts.

Welcoming the research, Robin Webster, CEO of Age Action Ireland, congratulated the ICSG on producing this timely report that gives a greater insight into the nature of deprivation as experienced by many older people in maintaining their quality of life in the face of rising costs and reduced support services. He also welcomed the proposal to have a new deprivation index for older people.

A copy of the research report can be downloaded here


For further information:

Professor Thomas Scharf
Tel: 091-495459 and 089-4327398
E: thomas.scharf@nuigalway.ie

Dr Kieran Walsh
Tel: 091-495460
E: kieran.walsh@nuigalway.ie

To obtain a hard copy of the report, please contact icsg@nuigalway.ie. The report can be downloaded at: http://www.icsg.ie/

About the Research

The research involved quantitative and qualitative elements:


First, the researchers conducted a secondary analysis of older adult household data on deprivation from the 2009 Irish component of the EU Survey of Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC). In addition to the 11-item basic deprivation index, the dataset includes a range of other indicators that address different forms of deprivation. The quantitative analysis focused on self-reported deprivation for older people belonging to one-person and two-person older adult households across age, gender, urban-rural residence, and chronic illness status. Data from 861 one-person households (aged 65 years and over) and 641 two-person households (where both occupants were aged 65 years and over) were included in the analysis, yielding a total sample of 1,502 older adult households and 2,143 older adult individuals.

Second, the researchers conducted focus groups and interviews with people belonging to nine different participant groups: older people living alone; people aged 80 years and over; ethnic minority groups; urban deprived residents; suburban residents; rural residents; nursing home residents; older family carers; and older people with chronic ill health and/or disability. Eighty-three older people, 21 men and 62 women ranging in age from 55 to 95 years, participated in the research. Nine focus group discussions and 21 individual in-depth interviews were conducted. In addition to capturing perceptions and experiences of deprivation, the qualitative component sought to explore links between quality of life, deprivation and poverty in participants’ lives.

About the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway

The Irish Centre for Social Gerontology (ICSG) is a multidisciplinary research centre on ageing at NUI Galway established in 2006. ICSG focuses on research, education and training in the field of social gerontology in Ireland and internationally. ICSG was established jointly by the University and through a generous donation from Atlantic Philanthropies. The Director of ICSG is Professor Thomas Scharf.

ICSG aims to develop and promote social and economic aspects of ageing in Ireland with a view to supporting a holistic and positive view of ageing, which emphasises participation and empowerment for older people at all levels of society. The first centre of its kind in Ireland, ICSG offers research expertise and practical support to public, private and voluntary agencies involved in the formulation and implementation of public policy for older people at international, national, regional and local levels.