Two in five (40%) pensioners spent at least one year of the last decade in poverty according to new research from national charity Independent Age1. The sobering findings come as 2022 brings with it rapidly rising living costs which will tip greater numbers of people into financial hardship.

The new research, produced by national charity Independent Age and City, University of London, analysed data from a survey that tracked the financial status of people at State Pension age and above between 2010 and 2019. It reveals that a large number of people in later life live precariously, just one step away from falling into poverty. Worryingly, the situation is deteriorating as the pandemic continues, with significant rises in energy prices and the cost of living. A YouGov poll commissioned by Independent Age in December 2021 found that 47% of people aged 50 and over believe their financial situation will be even worse in 2022 than it is now2.

While later life brings financial stability for some, for many others it is a time of insecurity and precariousness – this new analysis found a significant number of people fall into poverty after they retire. The situation is particularly troubling for certain groups who are more likely to slide into financial hardship in later life.

Between 2017 and 2019:

  • 11% of Asian pensioners entered poverty, as did 7% of Black older people.
  • Older people who live alone are also more at risk, with 6% of single women and 5% of single men going into poverty between 2017 and 2019.

The impact of being in poverty for even one year can be damaging, causing harm to someone’s physical and mental health3. For example, they may be unable to pay for heating, keep their homes in a good state of repair, or cover unexpected expenses, such as replacing a broken cooker or fridge, all of which can have an impact on someone’s health. With energy bills expected to rise by as much as £600 a year within months, many more older people are likely to fall into poverty in the year ahead.

Morgan Vine, Head of Policy and Influencing, Independent Age, said:

“This new research paints a concerning picture of later life in the UK over the last decade. It is unacceptable that two in five people in later life have been forced to spend at least one year in poverty across a nine year period1.

“An older person who has spent a year or more in poverty is much more likely to be unable to afford an unexpected expense such as repairing a broken boiler, they will try to save money by cutting back on heating and food, and they will likely limit their social interactions to save money1.

“For those in later life who manage to get out of poverty, many are still living on the edge, feeling insecure and meaning they are less likely to be able to afford things that everyone else takes for granted.”

Longer-term poverty

While it is damaging to spend any time in poverty, as many as one in twenty (6%) pensioners spent more than seven years in poverty between 2010 and 20191. A further one in ten (10%) spent four to six years in poverty. Groups especially affected were people who live alone – with 11% of single women and 9% of single men spending seven or more years in poverty – and Black people. 17% of Black pensioners experienced poverty for seven years or more during the period analysed.

Morgan Vine, Head of Policy and Influencing, Independent Age, continues:

“After another incredibly tough year, 2022 should be an opportunity for hope, but for many older people living in poverty, the new year brings anxiety and despair as they struggle to pay their bills and stay warm, fed and healthy.”

 Financial pressures

With the cost of living rising sharply to its highest point in over a decade and increasing numbers of older people living in poverty, Independent Age’s new report is calling on Ministers to put in place a cross-government anti-poverty strategy and do more to support older people. This includes keeping the government’s promise to reinstate the pensions triple lock, and ensuring all older people receive the financial support available to them through entitlements like Pension Credit.

The charity’s new research shows that increases in social benefit income – from things like Pension Credit - are a crucial factor in helping older people escape poverty. This is particularly true among people aged 75+.

Pension Credit is a UK-wide means-tested benefit for people of State Pension age who fall below an income threshold. 

It is a lifeline to pensioners most in need of financial support, and enables people to access wider essential support like the Warm Home Discount rebate on electricity bills and Cold Weather Payments – both essential support in this difficult winter. However, Pension Credit has the worst uptake of all income-related benefits and has not risen above 64% for almost a decade.

Research commissioned by Independent Age for their Credit where it’s due campaign has shown that increasing Pension Credit uptake has the potential to lift 440,000 older people out of poverty, and reduce the number of people living in severe poverty by half. It would also reduce pressure on health and social care services, as higher incomes improves people’s health.3


  1. Poverty in Later Life report – Independent Age and City, University of London: Longer-term pensioner poverty and poverty transitions: A quantitative analysis of the Understanding Society survey (USoc) | Independent Age

The report analysed data from the Understanding Society survey that tracked the financial status of people of state pension age between 2010 and 2019. The research defined poverty using the Households Below Average Income (HBAI) relative income after housing costs definition. This sets the ‘poverty line’ at 60% of median UK household income in the present day. Households that fall below this 60% median are defined as being in ‘relative poverty’. Households that fall below 50% of median UK household income are described as being in ‘severe relative poverty

  1. Independent Age and YouGov surveyed 2,004 people over the age of 50. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2004 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2nd - 6th December 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 50+).
  2. The cost of pensioner poverty and non-take-up of Pension Credit | Independent Age, Loughborough University, September 2020
  3. Credit Where it’s due: A briefing on low uptake of Pension Credit | Independent Age, September 2020

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