Figures released by the government1 show that while poverty in the overall population has remained relatively stable, since 2012, pensioner poverty has increased by 5%, with now almost a fifth of pensioners (18%) living in poverty after paying their housing costs in 20202.

This difference in trend suggests there are issues specific to the older age group in the UK and equates to an estimated 2.1 million pensioners now living in poverty. Of these, a shocking 1.1 million are living in severe poverty3.

Additional findings show variations:

Byage group:

  • People aged 85 and over have the highest rate of poverty among pensioners, at 22%. This has risen 6% since 2012.

In regions4:

  • Of all the regions in England, London is rising faster than any other and has by far the highest rate of pensioner poverty, at 25%. This has risen 7% since 2012 - 2014.
  • The North West is also a cause for concern. It has risen 6% (from 12% to 18%) since 2012 –2014.  This has taken it from having one of the lowest rates of poverty to the joint second highest. 
  • The North East, which fell to a low of 10% in 2011 – 2013, has been steadily rising and has now gone up by 6% to 16%.

By gender and relationship status:

Poverty among older women appears to be rising at a slightly faster rate than among men, with a 4% rise of male pensioners living in poverty since 2012 (to 16%), and a 6% rise among female pensioners (to 20%).

  • For single female pensioners, poverty levels have risen from 17% in 2011 to 27% in 2020.
  • For single male pensioners, levels have risen from 14% in 2011 to 23% in 2020.

The role of Pension Credit

The charity says these rising figures could be drastically reduced if people receive the financial support they are entitled to via Pension Credit - extra money designed to help with living costs for people over State Pension age and on a low income5.

As well as topping up people’s income, Pension Credit also acts as a gateway to other forms of support, including Housing Benefit, a free TV licence (for people over 75), free NHS prescriptions, council tax support and free eye tests.Combined, this could be worth around £7,000 per year for an individual.

Previous research commissioned by Independent Age found that maximising Pension Credit uptake and ensuring everyone entitled to it receives it, could lift roughly 3 in 10 pensioners out of poverty and reduce the number living in severe poverty by half6.

However, it has the worst uptake of all income-related benefits and has not risen above 64% for almost a decade.

As part of its ‘Credit where it’s due’ campaign, Independent Age has been calling on the government to create an action plan to increase uptake since July 2019.

Earlier this month, the government backed a Pension Credit awareness day (16 June). The charity welcomes this as a positive step, but says awareness raising won't be enough by itself, as the scale of the issue demands more urgent and innovative action.

Pensioners in poverty by English region

Pensioners in poverty by English region

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said: “These figures should be a huge red flag for the government. For the last ten years, pensioner poverty has been creeping back up, and this ticking timebomb cannot be ignored.  

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said: “These figures should be a huge red flag for the government. For the last ten years, pensioner poverty has been creeping back up, and this ticking timebomb cannot be ignored.  

“The government statistics are clear, in 2019, up to £1.8 billion earmarked for the poorest people in later life through Pension Credit didn’t reach them.

“Living in poverty impacts on every area of a person’s life, including both their physical and mental health. People have told us they have been forced to make impossible decisions, between buying fresh food or whether to heat their homes in the colder months.

“The government must urgently come up with a plan to increase the level of Pension Credit uptake, including effective and targeted awareness campaigns, research into who is missing out and why, improved communication to people who are eligible, and exploring options around auto-enrolment.”

Anisah, 86, has seen a positive impact on her life since receiving Pension Credit.

“I officially retired as a nurse at the age of 56 because I had health problems. I really don’t know why I got a lower pension, but life was very hard. I bought the cheapest of whatever was available. Instead of putting on the heating, I’d put more clothes on so I could have another cup of tea or something to eat.

“Pension Credit really changed my life for the better. It meant I could eat better food, be healthier and I could be warmer. I got other benefits too, like help with my glasses and dental treatment. I started to live again. I expect there are many people today who don’t know about Pension Credit. The government needs to tell us what is available and what they are prepared to do for us.”

For more information on Credit where it’s due, see here.

- ENDS -


Notes to editor

For media enquiries please contact:

Amy Dodge, Media and PR Manager at Independent Age on 020 7605 6508,

Out of Hours: 07545 209589

All figures relate to Financial Year End (FYE) of the year mentioned.

Data tables available on request.


All statistics relate to a particular measure of poverty - relative income poverty (<60% of median income) after housing costs (AHC).

  1. 18% are living in relative poverty which means they receive 60% less than average household incomes.
  2. Severe relative poverty is when households received 50% less than average household incomes.
  3. Country and regional data is calculated by 3 year rolling averages, at the request of the Department for Work and Pensions.
  4. Pension Credit is an income-related benefit made up of 2 parts - Guarantee Credit and Savings Credit. The Guarantee Credit element tops up your weekly income if it’s below £173.75 (for single people) or £265.20 (for couples).
  5. Link to Independent Age commissioned research on Pension Credit

About Independent Age

We offer regular friendly contact, a strong campaigning voice and free, impartial advice on the issues that matter to older people: care and support, money and benefits, health and mobility. A charity founded over 150 years ago, we are independent so older people can be too.

For more information, visit our website

Arrange to speak to one of our advisers for free and confidential advice and information. Freephone 0800 319 6789 or email

To make a donation or find out more about how you can support the work of Independent Age and help older people stay independent, please visit

Share this article

Print this page