The hidden two million
The problems experienced by older people in financial hardship are varied and vast. Independent Age's chief executive Joanna Elson CBE, reflects on what can be done to ensure no one faces financial hardship in later life
What do you imagine when you think of older people in the UK? That they enjoy a comfortable retirement with a large pension pot, mortgage-free home and significant savings? Sadly, for many, this is far from the truth.
I’ve just started as Chief Executive of a charity focussed on poverty and later life, Independent Age. What made me apply was discovering that more than two million pensioners in the UK live below the poverty line, with many more hovering precariously above it.
Independent Age research has identified six groups who are at greater risk of financial hardship in later life: single people, private renters, women, people from minoritised ethnic communities, carers, and people with long-term conditions or disabilities. The individuals who make up these groups are often hidden, overlooked and unheard, and the dream of a carefree, financially secure retirement is anything but reality.
So, how can we start to address these inequalities? Additional government funding, while a necessary and important long-term ambition, does not need to be the starting point.
We can ensure older people facing financial hardship have access to the money they are already entitled to, such as Pension Credit, Attendance Allowance and Housing Benefit. For many, access to these additional funds can be life-changing.
With the help of Independent Age I managed to get an extra £800 a month... with Attendance Allowance and Pension Credit at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel. it's made a lot of difference to me.
Independent Age research shows that as well as coming at a great personal cost, not receiving Pension Credit costs the government, too. So it’s essential we work together to get this money to all those eligible for it.
Reducing the costs people face would also make a huge difference, yet many older people are not aware of the financial support on offer — such as social tariffs — that could bring down their bills, including broadband, council tax and water. As the cost-of-living crisis continues, making people aware of this additional support, which is already available, is essential.
One particular group who are more likely to struggle with low income and high costs in later life are private renters. Between 2009-10 and 2020-21, the number of privately renting households in England with someone living in them aged 65 or over increased from 258,000 to 403,000 — an increase of 56%. Worryingly, Independent Age research shows that one in four older private renters in the UK are in long-term poverty.
We urgently need to end both discriminations against older renters who are in receipt of welfare support, and stop no-fault evictions. These changes would provide additional security to older renters and help alleviate some of the pressures contributing to their financial hardship. The Renters Reform Bill is an important opportunity to do this, and we urge the government to use the Bill to address these long-term challenges.
Every day, Independent Age hears from people in later life who are struggling financially. While they are resourceful, careful and resilient, employing many tactics to make their low income work for them, life is difficult.
We don’t like going [to the food bank] every week. Being honest, all my life I’ve never been someone to rely on somebody else. You never think when you’re younger, that when you get older, things are going to change.
The problems experienced by older people in financial hardship are varied and vast, and government cannot solve them alone. That’s why Independent Age also believes we urgently need the introduction of a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing for England, who would listen to, and amplify, the voices of older people, convene and collaborate with key stakeholders and provide best practice suggestions to fix some of the problems faced.
"You expect to get to this age, and you think you are going to sit back. And everything’s going to be warm and cosy here, and that’s really not what it is…”
At Independent Age, we are here to play our part in ensuring no one faces financial hardship in later life. If you agree, then work with us to improve the lives of millions of older people. If you’re an MP, you could start by signing up to be an Independent Age parliamentary champion. We also have free and impartial information guides for older individuals and their families, which can be ordered through our helpline at 0800 319 6789 or on our website. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
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