Almost two million older people are living in poverty in the UK. But the pervasive stereotype of comfortably well-off home-owning baby boomers can often overshadow this ongoing problem.
Every winter older people are making difficult choices and often have to choose between heating their home and paying for food.
Over the last eight weeks, Pounds, Shillings and Pensions has focused on a theme-a-week of various financial issues that affect older people. Through contributions from older people and other experts in the field, we have explored financial insecurity in later life and started a conversation about what needs to change.
The impact of rising pensioner poverty
One in six older people are now living in poverty. This rise has been caused, in the main, by a decrease in home ownership and (pensioner) savings amongst older people. Alongside the rising cost of living, this has made it increasingly difficult for older people to manage their income. In our blog series, older people told us how benefits and pensions alone were not enough to cover their household bills. As a result, they were regularly having to miss out on essentials, such as food or fuel, to help them manage their income. And small luxuries such as buying new clothes or attending social events were not an option.
“Almost all my money goes towards making up the rent so I have to life very frugally. I have nothing left for holidays, socialising or replacing goods. I now have to buy clothes from the charity shop.” – LM
These bills are even greater for disabled older people and older carers, who often face additional costs. These could range from housing adaptations to needing the heating on more.
“Because my husband is incontinent, we have to wash and dry clothes and sheets every day. All that electricity puts extra on the bills all the time. In winter my husband feels the cold very deeply and that adds to the bills as well.” – Catherine
Missing out on help
Unfortunately, many older people are unaware of the benefits they are entitled to and are missing out on vital support.
Up to 1.3 million pensioner households who are entitled to Pension Credit are missing out, as highlighted in our report - Credit where it’s due: The £3.5 billion Pension Credit scandal. In our report, we outline our call to Government to reform Pension Credit and make a commitment to increase take-up of this vital benefit.
Many contributors to the blog series supported our call to action:
“Four out of ten pensioners who could claim Pension Credit do not do so. It has one of the worst take up rates of any means-tested benefit…That sets the context of Independent Age’s excellent challenge to the Government to raise take up of Pension Credit above the current desultory 60%.” - Paul Lewis
Older women and poverty
Throughout the blog series, we heard from contributors about the impact of financial insecurity for women in later life.
Older single women are more likely to be living in poverty, compared to older single men and couples
Contributors highlighted the impact of receiving a lower State Pension compared to men, often to the result of taking time away from work to look after their children:
“I continued working part-time as a teacher. At the time you couldn’t pay into a pension unless you worked full-time. I thought I would be okay…It was a different time, we were always told our husbands would look after us.” – Anne
Women also shared the discrimination they experienced when trying to find work in later life:
“I found it very difficult to get a job despite my experience, as an older person I had a suspicion that my CV was ending up straight in the shredder." – Farah
Our blog series highlighted the discrimination women face in later life, a theme which appeared frequently in our previous series Ageism+.
Pounds, Shillings and Pensions has started a conversation about financial security in later life, but it doesn’t end there.
We will continue to campaign on what needs to change to improve life for older people, including lobbying the Government to commit to increasing the take-up of Pension Credit. You can support our campaign by contacting your MP. And we will using the insight from this blog series to inform our future work in this space.
In the meantime, if you haven’t already, please do look through our blog contributions and share them amongst your networks and on social media. The greater profile we are able to give to the financial challenges experienced by many older people, the better-placed we all are to take action and make a difference.
Lastly, we would like to extend a special thank you to all our blog contributors for sharing their experiences and expertise on this important topic.
Natasha Jetha is a Senior Policy Officer at Independent Age.