Blog: Will the elderly be expected to pay for COVID-19?

Rosie MacGregor, the chair of UNISON’s national retired members’ committee, warns that older people may face further challenges to their well-being post-COVID-19

Tight cropped porter of Rosie MacGregor

We all know the disastrous impact that COVID-19 has had on older people. Data from outbreaks of the new coronavirus around the world show that older people – and those with certain underlying health conditions – are at greater risk of the serious effects of COVID-19.

Of the excess deaths registered during the pandemic in England and Wales up to the end of May, the Office For National Statistics (ONS) reports that more than four in five were of people aged 70 or over.

When we look at the number of deaths from coronavirus for each 1,000 people, there is an even more stark relationship to age.

  • In age groups up to and including 60-69, fewer than one in 1,000 people have died from coronavirus;
  • Age 70-79, it’s two in every 1,000;
  • Age 80-89, it’s seven in every 1,000;
  • Age 90 and over, it’s 18 people in every 1,000.

But as lockdown restrictions lighten and there is a gradual return to how things were before March this year, there may be a further price imposed on older people by COVID-19. 

The pandemic has brought large parts of the economy to a standstill and the government has had to spend billions to support workers, businesses and the NHS.

It is estimated that the final bill may be more than £300 billion. The government is already thinking about how this will be paid and my fear is that the burden could fall disproportionately on older people.

For example, there has been a proposal by the Social Market Foundation that the triple lock used to calculate the state pension (the highest of the following three measures: average earnings, prices or 2.5%) should be scrapped. This could be a foretaste of policies to come.

My personal view is that it is a disgrace to ask the older generation to face cuts in their income before making other proposals such as imposing taxes on extreme wealth.  

Those aged over 75 already received a cruel blow on 9 July when the BBC announced the withdrawal of their free TV licences, except for  those claiming pension credit. We know that many eligible pensioners, for various reasons, fail to claim pension credit. We also know that many pensioners rely on their televisions for company to help combat loneliness.

I know that the bill has to be paid, but lets all work together to ensure that the cost does not fall on the most vulnerable in society, who have already paid a high price during this pandemic.

Keep vigilant, stay at home if you can, and stay safe.