One in six pensioners are currently living in poverty and this is on the rise. But Pension Credit, a benefit designed to help lift older people out of poverty, is failing to reach those who need it most. Today Independent Age is launching our report Credit where it’s due: The £3.5bn Pension Credit scandal. Using new analysis we have been able to highlight a distinct group - the PHoMOs (Pensioner Households entitled to Pension Credit but Missing Out) and outline our call to the Government to make sure that Pension Credit reaches everyone who needs it.
To fully understand the difference Pension Credit makes, I spoke to a number of people on the phone and in their homes who took the time to share with me how this essential top-up has transformed their lives. Their reasons for claiming Pension Credit varied in nature - for example, some didn’t qualify for the full State Pension; others had experienced a change in circumstance such as a partner dying; and some were suffering from ill health.
Their testimonies were incredibly humbling and really brought home how Pension Credit allowed them to cover essential costs that are by no means extravagant.
This top up lessened their worry and fear around paying their rent, paying for the weekly food shop and managing utility bills “without too much scrimping”. This is essential at a time when the costs associated with renting and Council Tax can be unmanageable, But for some, there is just enough left over “to pay for two funerals” after daily expenses have been covered. Receiving Pension Credit can mean the difference between good or bad health, eating or going hungry and turning the heating on when it’s cold. It can also help a person stay independent as paying for transport can be a crucial lifeline in accessing shops and local services.
It touches on all aspects of a person’s life.
Reflecting on what I was told, I often tried to put myself in their shoes to envisage what it must be like to live so close to the poverty line and how being able to meet every day costs can so often be taken for granted. At times, our conversations became emotional.
One person I spoke to described Pension Credit as making the difference between life and death.
This caused them to momentarily break down in tears as they imagined a world in which they didn’t receive this vital money. People who receive Pension Credit can get various amounts, and sometimes it may not look like much but the peace of mind it brings is priceless.
As I was warmly invited into people’s homes, I was so grateful that they shared details of their personal lives with me such as photographs of their loved ones, pets and objects relating to personal triumphs. When Pension Credit is talked about it is often in figures and statistics, but it is important to remember the people behind the numbers - real people who would struggle if they did not receive this lifeline. Plus let’s not forget those who are barely getting by every day, who I couldn’t meet with, because we don’t know who they are.
Supporting our Pension Credit campaign
77% of MPs polled and 81% of the general public agree that it is the responsibility of the current government to ensure that all older people who are entitled to Pension Credit are receiving it. Are you one of them too?
We need our supporters to get in contact with their MP to show the strong support there is to reforming Pension Credit and a taking a step to help end pensioner poverty for good.
You can contact your MP online easily here.
Emma Seaman is a Policy Officer at Independent Age.
Have you been affected by any of these issues?
If you have been affected by any of the issues described in this blog, or simply need someone to reach out to, you can call Independent Age’s freephone Helpline for information and advice on 0800 319 6789.