A new report from Independent Age shows the hidden reality of facing financial hardship in later life and explores the groups of older people most likely to be affected.
A damaging stereotype permeates our society: that everyone in later life is enjoying a comfortable retirement with a large pension pot, mortgage-free mansion and significant savings. Sadly, for all of us, this is not the case.
The hidden reality is that more than two million pensioners in the UK live below the poverty line, with many more hovering precariously above it. The individuals who make up this group are often invisible, overlooked and unheard – and the dream of a carefree, financially secure retirement is anything but reality. Government figures show that 7% of pensioner couples and 20% of single pensioners have no source of income other than the State Pension and benefits.
Independent Age’s new report, “The hidden two million”, shows the reality of facing financial hardship in later life. Drawing on their conversations with older people on low income across the UK, the report lays bare the difficult decisions they have to make on a daily basis. Alongside this, it highlights the national picture, with pensioner poverty on the rise, and explores the groups of older people most likely to be affected, including:
• single people
• people from minoritised ethnic communities
• private renters
• people with long-term conditions or disabilities.
With multidimensional, complex lives, intersectionality is prominent among those facing financial hardship, with many people likely to identify with these seldom-heard groups.
The report identifies action that decision makers could take across the UK to ensure everyone has the money they’re entitled to, is able to avoid high costs, and is able to live in a warm, safe home with the support they need to live as they choose.
There are entitlements and programmes out there for older people on a low income, including Pension Credit, Council Tax Reduction, Housing Benefit and the Disabled Facilities Grant. One significant challenge that needs to be overcome, say the authors, is how governments across the UK, organisations and businesses can effectively support and encourage older people facing financial hardship to self-identify that they are struggling with money, and to come forward for support.
In addition to identifying as someone facing financial hardship, there is substantial stigma and shame surrounding living in poverty or claiming a benefit from the government. This is particularly heightened in certain communities, with people very reluctant to be perceived as “living off the state”, while others tell us they equate state support with “begging”.
This insight shows how essential it is for governments across the UK to find ways of identifying older people facing financial hardship and ensuring they receive the money they are entitled to.
Independent Age is calling on the UK Government to:
• Conduct a cross-party process to establish an adequate level of income needed in later life to avoid poverty. Until this has been done, the UK Government should retain the State Pension triple lock to maintain the value of the pension and keep as many people as possible – especially those who rely on the State Pension and benefits as their main sources of income – out of financial hardship.
• Produce a Pension Credit uptake strategy. This should include realistic, measurable targets, short-term activities, like targeted awareness- raising campaigns, and new research on how best to target people missing out. It should set out enhanced support for local authority activity, steps to increase uptake among people from minoritised ethnic backgrounds and longer-term solutions such as (partial) automatic payment. The Department for Work and Pensions should regularly update the UK Parliament on progress to increase uptake of Pension Credit.
• Ensure that the next review of the State Pension age (SPa) takes full account of the impact of raising it on people approaching later life on low incomes, to prevent an increase in pensioner poverty. This should include developing ways to enhance income support for those approaching SPa who are on a low income and unable to work
• Support a pilot exercise to test an auto-appointment system for the Pension Wise guidance service. This would build on the success of automatic pension enrolment, to reduce the number of people making uninformed and risky decisions about their long-term retirement income.
Further, across all nations they want governments to:
• develop refreshed national housing strategies that set out commitments to invest in social housing and help ensure that everyone, regardless of age, can find an affordable, secure and decent home.
• Establish a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing in Westminster and an Older People’s Commissioner in Holyrood to give older people an independent voice at the heart of government.
• Develop a meaningful strategy to address poverty, including those who experience poverty in later life. This should be on a statutory footing with statutory targets.
• Fund existing community organisations to provide culturally appropriate services for older people facing financial hardship. These could focus on the needs of particular minoritised communities, where staff or volunteers speak a range of languages and older people feel comfortable coming together with people of shared heritage. You can read the full report here: