Figures higher still for Black and Asian UK women pensioners, at about one in three
These deeply worrying figures are released as MPs prepare to debate the suspension of the triple lock in Parliament
Really concerning new analysis from Age UK shows that in less than a decade the proportion of female pensioners in the UK living in poverty has increased by six percentage points, resulting in one in five female pensioners – 1.25 million – now living below the breadline.
Despite the rise in women’s State Pension age meaning the number of female pensioners in the UK has fallen by around 800,000 since 2012-13 (from 7.1m to 6.3m), the number living in poverty has actually increased by around 260,000 (from 990,000 to 1.25 million).
Published to coincide with the launch of its new poverty report – and on the day that MPs are debating the triple lock suspension in Parliament – the figures show that the good progress made in reducing pensioner poverty up to 2010 is now rapidly being reversed. Rates are once again on the rise, leaving 2.1 million pensioners (18 per cent) living in poverty and forced to make very real and difficult choices every day about how to make the most of their very low fixed income.
The report highlights that single female pensioners are at much higher risk of being in poverty than single men and pensioner couples (27 per cent compared to 23 per cent and 13 per cent respectively).
Pensioners from Black and Asian communities are around twice as likely to be living in poverty as White pensioners (33 per cent of Asian pensioners and 30 per cent of Black pensioners compared to 16 per cent of White pensioners).
Pensioners who rent their homes are also much more likely to be in poverty than those who own their home outright (38 per cent of private tenants and 36 per cent of social rented tenants compared to 14 per cent of homeowners).
Drawing attention to what it means to be an older person living in poverty, the report includes heart-breaking reports from pensioners around the country. Around 3,000 of the Charity’s campaigners have been in touch to tell their stories and Age UK’s national advice line hears from thousands of people every year who are worried about older relatives and friends who are struggling to make ends meet.
One person called the Charity about a relative in his 80s who was having problems with his electricity and could not afford the new fuse box needed. The family were in daily contact with him, but it was only when they visited and found him living in a cold, dark house that they realised what a desperate situation he was in, as he had not wanted to worry them. Another caller phoned to ask for help for their relative: a man who was nearly 90 and lived alone had a leaking roof which had recently soaked his staircase. Despite receiving Pension Credit, he still could not afford to get it fixed.
Age UK is calling on the Government to set out a clear reform programme, in partnership with third sector organisations and others, to end poverty in later life.
On the day that MPs are debating the suspension of the triple lock – which was put in place by the coalition government in 2010 to protect the value of the State Pension for current and future pensioners – the Charity is urging the Government to ensure the State Pension system provides an income which, at the very least, covers the cost of basic needs such as food, clothing and heating. To date the triple lock has increased the level of the State Pension year on year but, with so many pensioners still struggling to make ends meet, its job is far from done.
Age UK is highlighting the importance of the triple lock for those who rely heavily on the State Pension now, as well as others in their 50s and early 60s who could end up receiving a significantly lower State Pension if its value is allowed to erode. This in turn would increase the need for means-tested benefits and additional financial support, such as the Winter Fuel Payment.
The Charity is also calling for financial disadvantage to be addressed through good social support, affordable essential goods and services and access to information, advice, and practical help to enable people to maximise their income. The report shows that financial disadvantage is not just about money coming in – it is much harder to manage on a modest income when people have extra costs due to disability or care needs. The extra costs that tend to come along as we age are often overlooked during debates about poverty, but in practice they are often a big factor behind the financial problems some older people face.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “I think many will be shocked to see how many women pensioners are now living in poverty – 1.25 million, equivalent to one in five – a big cause for concern.
“It’s important to recognise too just how much greater the risk of poverty in later life is for women who are Black or Asian, compared to their White peers. The fact that as many as one in three are living below the breadline demonstrates a level of structural inequality in our society, linked to race, that should be a wake-up call for both national and local policymakers.
“It is essential that the Government’s levelling-up agenda covers the issues facing older women. Stabilising social care and increasing both the quantity and quality of it on offer would make a big difference to many on low incomes. They are unlikely to gain from the Prime Minister’s proposed cap on catastrophic care costs because of having few if any assets to protect. When it comes to helping these older women to get the care and support they need the ball is very much in the Chancellor’s court: he has to give councils a generous settlement for care in his forthcoming Spending Review or these older women will be even further disadvantaged.
“Our new analysis also shows how vital it is that the triple lock is reactivated again in 2023. There may have been reason to suspend it for one year, because of the distortions caused by the pandemic, but if we’re to have any hope of reducing the level of pensioner poverty in our society the triple lock must come back into force again in 12 months time.”
The Charity is urging anyone who is worried about money or who may be entitled to claim benefits to get in touch by calling the Age UK Advice line free of charge on 0800 169 65 65 (8am-7pm), visiting www.ageuk.org.uk/money or contacting their local Age UK for free information and advice.