AROUND 10,000 local pensioners are facing financial hardship across Ards and North Down. As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, a local charity has revealed that among the borough’s over 75s very few are reaching out for help as they find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Local charity Community Advice Ards and North Down has revealed that only nine percent of local 75 year-olds are seeking help to get the benefits they are entitled to that could ease their financial struggle. These were the stark revelations that prompted independent councillor Ray McKimm to throw a lifeline of support to the borough’s elderly and most vulnerable residents.

Concerned groups such as Bangor Foodbank and community Support, CAAAND, Age North Down and Ards (AGEnda), the u3a, council officers and residents attended a recent emergency meeting. It is hoped that a co-ordinated approach will help more local people access benefits they are entitled to as well as reducing social isolation and providing affordable food and fuel initiatives. Councillor McKimm spoke of his ‘shame’ that thousands of the borough’s residents were facing a ‘heat or eat’ dilemma amidst growing fears the cost of living crisis was ‘out of control’.

He said: “As of 2020 we have 35,097 people in the borough over the age of 65, this has risen rapidly over the years and may now be closer to 40,000. “It is estimated that one in five are facing the challenge of living with not enough to pay the bills and stay warm. “In our case that could be about 8,000 of our elderly residents facing financial difficulties. Adding to this the 10% increase in cost of living this year alone this number may well be now closer to 10,000.”

Mr McKimm said: “I find myself ashamed that as many as 10,000 elderly in our community today are worrying about paying the bills and need to cut back their spending. “They can’t work more to earn more and they are on a fixed income of a state pension. One lady said to me ‘it all feels out of control, what can I do? So today I turned off the heating and I won’t be turning it on again’.”  He said: “This is what brought a group of us together last week. We want to let our elderly community know that we care and we see the challenges they face. “We are not offering charity, in many cases regional government and local council money has been set aside to help them. Sadly, in many cases it has not found its way to them. “This is not money that would go to other people or other projects, it is money that has been set aside for them in recognition of their needs, their contribution to our society and to show that we really do care. “In the coming weeks we will be showing that we really do value our elderly community and that they will not face this challenging winter alone.

The help is there and we will do all we can to get it to them.” Mr McKimm said: “We really want to hear about the challenges that people are facing and how we can best help.

You can write to Age Friendly at The Castle, Castle Park Avenue, Bangor, BT20 4BT, email: ray.mckimm@ardsandnorthdown.gov.uk. “If you if you prefer to talk to someone you can call councillor Ray McKimm on 07722571413. We want to hear from you, to help you and for you to know that you are not alone in the challenges you may be facing.”