Older people from minoritised ethnic communities are being let down when it comes to escaping poverty, as language barriers, government mistrust and a lack of effective promotion of financial support stand in their way, according to new research from national charity Independent Age.
The charity, which supports all older people facing financial hardship, analysed census data and spoke to organisations and individuals to develop a better understanding of the shared and unique challenges faced by those from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities, one of the most at-risk groups when it comes to experiencing poverty in later life.
Their analysis found that 29% of older Asian/Asian British and 25% of older Black/Black British/Black Welsh: African people are living in poverty. Both figures are much larger than the overall pensioner poverty rate of 18%.
Independent Age’s analysis also revealed that older people from Black and Asian communities are less likely to own their homes and are more likely to rent in the social and private sectors. Almost half (49%) of Black/Black British/Black Welsh: African older people in the UK rent social housing. This much higher than the national average for older people renting social housing which is currently 13%. Also, the analysis showed that one in five (21%) older people from an Arab background rent in the private sector. People who rent in later life are more likely to be at risk of living in poverty in older age because many face high costs and insecurity.
Previous research from Independent Age highlighted how Black pensioners are at the greatest risk of long-term poverty with 17% of Black older people experiencing poverty for 7–9 years during a nine-year period, compared to 6% for all pensioners.
The latest census data shows that the UK’s population is ageing, and on average, the number of people aged 65+ has grown by 20% since the 2011 census. However, later life populations are growing faster in ethnic minority communities: for Asian/Asian British/Asian Welsh the figure is 74% and for Black/Black British/Black Welsh it is 35%.
As the population ages, Independent Age is calling on the government to take steps to address the shared issues faced by all older people in poverty, alongside the unique obstacles challenging those from minority ethnic communities.
Barriers to escaping poverty in minoritised ethnic communities
There are currently 2.1 million older people living in poverty in the UK, with many experiencing challenges including rising energy costs and insecure housing. Independent Age has done extensive research on the overarching causes of later life poverty. Now, through in-depth interviews with individuals, and community organisations who support people from diverse backgrounds including South Asian, Caribbean, Chinese and sub-Saharan African, the charity uncovered certain obstacles that apply to minoritised ethnic communities that could account for the higher numbers of people in poverty:
• Language barriers: Older people from minoritised ethnic communities are a diverse mix of people born both in the UK and overseas. While many people from these communities speak fluent English as a first or second language, language differences can be an obstacle to employment opportunities and can affect people’s engagement with the social security system. Some people cannot access appropriate information about what welfare benefits they may be entitled to. While others can be met with racism and discrimination when trying to access support, which can deter them from doing so again.
• Mistrust of the Government: Alarmingly, people talked about their distrust of the government, and how that prevents them applying for support, as they fear that the government might investigate their residency status and wrongly deport them. This was particularly true for older British Caribbean people who have been affected by the Windrush scandal when the UK Government wrongly detained or deported people, or denied their legal rights including their benefit entitlements.
• Lack of awareness of financial support: The interviews revealed a lack of awareness of some government benefits, including Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance. Some people assumed that the money they receive from their State Pension is everything they are entitled to. A related theme was people not knowing how to access benefits, including a lack of awareness of the various organisations and advice agencies that support people to do so.
Breaking down the obstacles
Morgan Vine, Head of Policy and Influencing at Independent Age said: “While older people on a low income across the UK face many similar challenges, especially as the cost of living continues to stretch people’s budgets to breaking point, our findings clearly show that minoritised ethnic communities are facing some unique barriers which must be overcome.
“Our older population is growing and becoming more diverse. Independent Age wants everyone to be able to live with dignity, we don’t want anyone in later life to be left behind. Yet many share with our advisers that they are forced to skip meals or are afraid to turn the lights on. The experiences that were shared with us demonstrate clearly that the government must do more to rebuild trust and proactively target support at a wider range of communities, including taking the lead in breaking down obstacles that are stopping eligible people from receiving the financial support they are entitled to.
“Independent Age also wants to see the UK Government introduce a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing to ensure the diverse voices that exist within later life are listened to, and changes are made to improve the systems they rely on. Nobody deserves to live in poverty at any stage of their life. That’s why as a charity we are working tirelessly to ensure everyone in later life has enough support to live well and avoid financial hardship”.
Independent Age is calling on the government to:
• Do more to make sure everyone in later life receives the full range of benefits and entitlements they are eligible for, including an uptake strategy for Pension Credit, a state benefit that tops up people’s income to a minimum level but has one of the lowest uptake levels. This should include steps to improve uptake among people from minoritised ethnic communities, such as tailored communications and accessible information in a range of languages and through a variety of formats such as audio and video.
• Establish a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing in both England and Scotland. The creation of this role would ensure that a diverse range of voices in later life are championed.
The full report is available here: https://www.independentage.org/policy-and-research/experiences-poverty-later-life