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A retired shipyard worker with no surviving family has told how he leaves his will out every night in case he dies and puts a milk carton by the door to keep it cool to save on energy bills.
John Foster, who appeared in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme called Britain’s Forgotten Pensioners, said he has turned off his empty fridge and sits in the dark at night to save electricity.
The 76-year-old, from Sunderland, lives alone in the house he used to share with his parents and two siblings, and told of his daily struggle to cope with his isolation as well as the financial pressures caused by the rising cost of living.
‘I’m completely on my own. I haven’t even got any relations anywhere, I’m just here, that’s it. Existing,’ he told the documentary.
The heartbreaking programme showed Mr Foster laying out his will and funeral arrangements before going to bed in case he died in the night.
John Foster, who appeared in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme called Britain’s Forgotten Pensioners, shows how he lays out his will before going to bed
‘I’m completely on my own. I haven’t even got any relations anywhere, I’m just here, that’s it. Existing,’ he said in a heartbreaking interview
‘I started doing this when my sister died. I’ve got no family – they’ve all gone – so there’s nobody to do things like this,’ he said.
‘If anyone comes into the house this is the first thing they’re going to see. They will phone the funeral directors, they’ll come out and everything will be done.’
Asked if he ever feels sad, Mr Foster said: ‘You should say ‘do you ever feel happy?’ Because I’m sad all the time.’
The pensioner explained that his brother, a miner, died four days before his 41st birthday, while his sister died five years ago. Meanwhile, his mother and father died within 27 hours of each other.
‘I’ve got no family, never been married, no kids. Family, if you lose one or two it’s bad enough, but if you lose all of them you’re completely on your own and it’s just a nightmare,’ he said.
‘I can’t believe I’m the last one here. It takes getting your head around it, you just can’t work it out.’
The documentary showed Karen Noble, from local charity Pallion Action Group, helping Mr Foster gain access to benefits so he could afford utility bills and proper meals.
In total this amounted to an extra £131.25 every week which the pensioner did not know he was entitled to.
He said afterwards: ‘I’m getting a lot more money now, which I’ve been entitled to for a few years and I didn’t know, I had no idea.’
Mr Foster can now afford to go shopping and no longer needs to rely on foodbanks.
The 76-year-old lives alone in the house he used to share with his parents and two siblings, and told of his daily struggle to cope with his isolation
Mr Foster stays in the dark at night to avoid having to pay for his electric lights
Ms Noble said: ‘I know that there’s lots of information online, but we all know older people who don’t go online.
‘In John’s case, if somebody had sat, when his sister had passed away and was on his own, had asked what was going on then that would have highlighted that he needed some additional support.
‘Nobody did, so whose responsibility is it and how are we going to solve it? I think it’s shocking that we’ve got a 76-year-old man who could have been getting an additional benefit for 10 years and nobody picked it up.’
A National Energy Action poll commissioned by Channel 4 for the documentary revealed the struggles elderly people are facing due to rising gas and electricity bills.
It revealed one in five (19%) over 65s went to bed earlier than usual for warmth, while 1.8million older people turned off their heating completely this winter to save money.
Meanwhile, three in five (59%) over 65s said they used their heating less than they ordinarily would.
Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said: ‘Many viewers will be shocked by this programme, and they are right to be.
‘Pensioner poverty fell steadily for a generation but then it rose again and now, as this documentary demonstrates, it’s truly back with a vengeance.
‘What we see in this programme ought to be a wakeup call that prompts an important discussion about how we ensure every older person can live decently and with dignity, free from the fear of the next big unaffordable bill.’
Mr Foster’s will and funeral arrangements laid out on a sofa in his living room for someone to find if they walk in following his death
Hard-pressed households will receive a minor boost next month as Ofgem lowers its price cap to just over £2,000 a year – a saving of nearly £450.
Energy consultancy firm Cornwall Insight predicts the price cap will fall by £446 to £2,054 a year, based on falling wholesale energy prices.
However, campaigners warned households are not set to feel relief for another seven years, with energy bills set to remain high until 2030 at the earliest.
‘We do not currently expect bills to return to pre-2020 levels before the end of the decade at the earliest,’ Cornwall Insight said.
Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) said that bills would remain ‘unaffordable’ for many due to the Government’s decision to cut its winter support packages.
You can watch Britain’s Forgotten Pensioners: Dispatches now on 4oD.