Concerns over 'ticking timebomb' as pensioner poverty levels creep up

Pensioner poverty levels have been "creeping back up" over the past decade, with analysis of recent government data revealing a 5 percentage point increase in pensioner poverty since 2012, with 18 per cent of pensioners living in poverty after housing costs in 2020.

This represents around 2.1 million pensioners living in poverty, according to the analysis undertaken by Independent Age, with 1.1 million of these pensioners thought to be living in "severe poverty".

This is despite the level of poverty in the overall population remaining "relatively stable" in the same period, prompting concerns that there are specific issues facing the older age group in the UK.

In particular, people aged 85 and over were shown to have the highest rate of poverty amongst pensioners, increasing by 6 percentage points since 2012 to 22 per cent.

Regional differences were also identified, with the highest regional increase in pensioner poverty seen in London, which increased by 7 percentage points to 25 per cent.

The North West, which had one of the lowest rates of pensioner poverty in 2012, was also highlighted as a “cause for concern”, recording a 6 percentage point increase to 18 per cent, which has made it the joint second highest area for pensioner poverty.

Poverty rates also appeared to be rising “slightly faster” amongst women, as there was a 4 percentage point increase in the number of male pensioners living in poverty since 2012, reaching 16 per cent in 2020, compared to a 6 percentage point rise to 20 per cent for women.

This situation is worsened for single pensioners, with single female pensioners recording an increase in poverty levels from 17 per cent in 2011 to 27 per cent in 2020, whilst single male pensioners levels also rose from 14 per cent in 2011 to 23 per cent in 2020.

Independent Age chief executive, Deborah Alsina, highlighted the figures as a “huge red flag for the government”, emphasising that “this ticking timebomb cannot be ignored”.

The charity argued that the rising figures could be “drastically reduced” if people receive the financial support they are entitled to via Pension Credit.

Indeed, previous research from Independent Age has suggested that maximising Pension Credit uptake and ensuring everyone entitled to it receives it, could lift roughly three in 10 pensioners out of poverty and reduce the number living in severe poverty by half.

Despite this, the charity emphasised that pension credit continues to have the worst uptake of all income-related benefits and has not risen above 64 per cent for almost a decade.

“The government statistics are clear, in 2019, up to £1.8bn earmarked for the poorest people in later life through pension credit didn’t reach them,” Alsina explained.

“Living in poverty impacts on every area of a person’s life, including both their physical and mental health.

"People have told us they have been forced to make impossible decisions, between buying fresh food or whether to heat their homes in the colder months.

“The government must urgently come up with a plan to increase the level of pension credit uptake, including effective and targeted awareness campaigns, research into who is missing out and why, improved communication to people who are eligible, and exploring options around auto-enrolment.”

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