Older people’s welfare benefits in the UK include universal benefits. These are benefits everyone over a certain age is entitled to, such as winter fuel allowance and free travel passes. There are also some conditional benefits, only available for those in greatest need, such as pension credits. This qualitative study addressed how these entitlements matter for health and wellbeing for older adults in times of austerity.
Twenty nine 60+ participants from Sheffield, London and Cambridge were interviewed at length about their work and social histories, their current day-to-day activities and financial and social priorities. They also expressed their views and experiences of welfare benefits.
Our findings showed clear differences to universal and conditional benefits. While the former supported a sense of social recognition and pride among older people, enabling social activity and contributions to family and society, conditional benefits were often difficult to access (deterring needy individuals from making claims) and were so that applying for them engendered feelings of shame and anxiety.
These findings support earlier work showing that tougher conditions on eligibility for benefits often results in needy individuals missing out, with negative impacts on health and wellbeing. Action is required to reduce benefit stigma, ease access to benefits, and to increase understanding and debate around the pros and cons of universal benefits.
For further reading access S Buckner & J Green’s 2013 discussion paper.