The UK Government needs a new strategy to end the scandal of 1.6 million pensioners living in poverty, says a leading charity.
That’s the verdict of a damning new report from the older person’s charity Age UK.
The report found that around 1.6 million pensioners in the UK live on or below the poverty, of whom 900,000 are living in severe poverty.
Since 2000 the number of older people living in poverty fell considerably but this progress has now stalled, say UK. Too many older people are struggling to make ends meet and the charity blames this on low benefit take-up.
Age UK say that over a million pensioners are missing out on benefits they are entitled too because of lack of awareness, stigma and over-complex claim forms.
Nearly a third of older people who were entitled to pension credits are not claiming it and up to 2.2 million were missing out on help with their council tax bill.
Up to 390,000 pensioners could have claimed housing benefit to help reduce their rent payments by an average of £48 a week, says Age UK.
Too many pensioners are suffering in silence, too proud or ashamed to reach out for help. Many older people often go without the things most people take for granted, such as a holiday or replacing broken household goods. And some are forced to prioritise household bills and cut back on food shopping.
Stretched incomes mean that many older people are becoming worried whether they will be able to afford care costs. Others worry about the cost of fuel and heating, with winter quickly approaching, and the potential prospect of an unexpected and unaffordable expense.
The report found that 62% of older people are reluctant to claim benefits, fearful of the stigma attached of being labelled a ‘benefit claimant’. This reluctance represents a huge barrier to ending pensioner poverty, say Age UK.
However, the report found that 92% of older people would make a claim for benefits if they believed they were eligible.
53% who were entitled to claim benefits did not do so because they felt they were ineligible. Local authorities and health service staff need to explore ways of identifying pensioners not in receipt of benefits and encourage them to make a claim, say Age UK.
Awareness and knowledge of benefits is also a huge problem. 75% of pensioners are aware of the support available but only 16% say they feel well informed about it.
Age UK is calling on the government to set targets for the continued reduction and eventual abolition of pensioner poverty. All pensioners should be brought into the new single-tier pension and put the ‘triple lock’ principle into legislation, extending it to all elements of the state pension.
The charity is also calling on the government to reduce the complexity of benefit claim forms, which are often completed by carers.
The government should also introduce a ‘national training programme’ for health experts and local authority staff, so that they can identify pensioners most at risk of poverty and signpost them to the benefits and support they are entitled to.