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Rising numbers of pensioners living in poverty

Publication: The Orkney News

Two elderly people seated in a bench in front of the sea
Photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash

The rise in the cost of living is negatively impacting people’s lives, and older people in Scotland are at high risk of financial hardship.

Many older people in Scotland are struggling with rising prices for basic foods and energy. Those who only have the State Pension to rely on are particularly affected and are having to rely on additional funds like Pension Credits to top up the money they have to survive upon.

The full new State Pension in the UK is £203.85 per week. This payment is entirely controlled by the UK Government and is not part of the powers devolved to Scotland.

The State Pension age is the earliest age a person can start receiving the State Pension, and in the UK, as well as other countries, this is drifting to ever older age bands.

The UK Government has confirmed that the State Pension age will rise to 67 by the end of 2028. This will be reviewed every two years, with the possibility of it rising to 68. For many older people in Scotland, they won’t live to receive their state pension. And remember, it is a pension built out of national insurance contributions. It is not something free the UK Government is giving you – you have paid into it all your working life.

Click on this link to find out when you will be able to receive your State Pension in the UK under the current age band: Check your State Pension age.

Pensioner Poverty in Scotland

“Absolute poverty after housing costs for pensioners was 10% (100,000 pensioners each year) in 2019-22. Before housing costs, it was 12% (120,000 pensioners)”.

“The relative poverty rate after housing costs for pensioners was 15% in 2019-22, or 150,000 pensioners each year. The poverty rate has been consistently below that for working-age adults (21%) and children (24%). Before housing costs, 16% of pensioners (150,000 pensioners) were in relative poverty.”

Poverty and Income Inequality, Scottish Government.

What do these terms mean?

Relative poverty is a measure of whether those in the lowest-income households are keeping pace with the growth of incomes in the economy as a whole.

Absolute poverty is a measure of whether those in the lowest-income households are seeing their incomes rise in real terms.

The charity Independent Age states that:

 “the current cost of living crisis means that many more are at risk of being pulled into financial hardship.” 

In a poll by Independent Age of those aged over 65 on a low income (£15,000 or less):

  • 45% are cutting back on their food spending
  • 42% are concerned about covering their food bills for the next six months
  • 54% are worried about how they will afford the cost of heating their home

To make savings, older people are cutting back on other services and activities, many of which, like digital technology, something essential today.

The proportion of pensioners in Absolute Poverty, Scotland. Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland 2019-22 pub. March 2023

Debbie Horne, Scotland Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Independent Age, said:

“Older people struggling financially can’t wait any longer for the Government to step in. The First Minister must include a pensioner poverty strategy in next month’s Programme for Government.

“Every day, we hear from older people across Scotland who are cutting back to dangerous levels. We’ve heard stories of those in later life risking falls by not turning on the lights at night, terminally ill older people not using the heating during winter and those who only eat one meal a day, all to save money. They are crying out for a plan to help them.

“If the Scottish Government wants to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow old, they can start now by committing to introducing a pensioner poverty strategy. We’ve heard positive words on the Government’s commitment to tackling poverty, but now older people need to see action. The Programme for Government must include a strategy to tackle pensioner poverty, or we risk seeing thousands more fall into financial hardship.”

Material Deprivation in Scotland

Material Deprivation as a measurement takes into account low income and other barriers to accessing goods and services, such as poor health, disability and social isolation. The figures for this are uncertain but there could be 50,000 of Scotland’s older people living in Material Deprivation.

Health and Wellbeing

Poverty is directly linked to ill health, both physical and mental, for all ages.

Trends in female mortality rates: Scotland, England and their 20% most and least deprived populations. Caption: Trends in female mortality rates: Scotland, England and their 20% most and least deprived populations. Rolling three-year averages per 100,000 population. Source: GCPH analyses of NRS mortality and population data.

The report ‘Changing mortality rates in Scotland and the UK‘ published by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health states:

“There is now a large body of evidence detailing the unprecedented changes to mortality rates that have taken place in Scotland, and across the wider UK, in the past ten years. These trends, including increasing death rates among poorer communities and the end to decades of previously continual improvement at country level, predate the COVID-19 pandemic, but have been made worse by it. 

“Detailed research has attributed these changes principally to the implementation of UK Government austerity policies which have adversely impacted on the health of poorer populations across the UK.”

These figures are shocking. Instead of making progress in health inequalities, the UK Government’s austerity policies are increasing the gap between those struggling with low incomes and the wealthier in society. The UK Government has the power to change this trend. The Scottish Government has the ability to mitigate the worst of these policies, but that will always be a sticking plaster and not a solution to the ever-widening gap being created between those on low incomes and the wealthier in our society.

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