Michael’s story is in no way unique. The financial situation for a lot
of older people is precarious, and many have not been able to build up adequate
savings. But this is especially true for people like Michael who were diagnosed
with HIV at a time when it was expected to be fatal and who quit their jobs and
stopped planning for the future.
Patrick Connolly of financial advisers AWD Chase de Vere says: “For
those diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness such as HIV, planning for
retirement wasn’t likely to be their biggest priority. They were concerned with
their own health, short-term financial priorities and making sure that
everything was in order for their close family and dependants.
“However, with ongoing improvements in medicine and health care, those
with seemingly a short projected life expectancy can end up living for much
longer than they might have anticipated. While this is clearly very good news,
it can create potential problems if the individual has neglected their
longer-term planning to the extent that they face financial hardship once they
have stopped working.”
Speaking at the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington
Lisa Power from the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) acknowledged the unforeseen consequences
of advice from support groups to those who were thought to be dying. “In the
1980s and ‘90s we encouraged people to give up work and go on state benefits
and not be economically productive,” she said.
She ran through the findings of a 2010 study by THT and Age UK, 50 Plus, which examined ageing and HIV.1
It found that, compared with the general population, older people with
HIV are less economically active, less likely to have a financial cushion and
more reliant on benefits. Many do not have enough money to manage on and have
serious financial worries for their future.
Over-50s with HIV are also less likely to be homeowners and more likely
to live in social or private rented housing than others in the same age group.
Other issues more prevalent than average in people with HIV, such as
immigration, housing or mental health problems, can also prevent people from planning
adequately for retirement.
A 2010 report on poverty and HIV by the National AIDS Trust (NAT) and
THT revealed at least one-in-six people diagnosed with HIV in the UK
experienced severe poverty between 2006 and 2009.2
Meanwhile, an increasing number of older people are living with HIV. The
Health Protection Agency reports that one-in-five people (22%) being seen for
HIV care in 2011 was over 50.3
Back in the ‘80s or ‘90s, someone with HIV was eligible for more
generous state benefits than they would qualify for today. People deemed unable
to work often received social housing and disability benefits.
But the current benefits system is requiring many people living with HIV
to undergo assessments of their work capability in order to have their benefits
eligibility reassessed. Many people on successful combination therapies may be
found fit to work, but experience real difficulties re-entering the job market.
A key concern is how someone who’s been out of the job market for
perhaps 10 or 15 years will find employment. Even those with a trade or skill may
find that technological developments mean their area of expertise has changed completely.
And for those who make it to the interview stage, explaining a long gap on a CV
due to illness can be difficult, with employers often wary of hiring someone
with a history of illness.