Drive Needed To End Pensioner Poverty!

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A drive to end the shame of pensioner poverty is needed‚ after a new report has shown that the UK has the fourth highest levels of poverty amongst over-65s in Europe‚ Age Concern and Help the Aged declared on Monday.

The joint charity made the call on the day that new figures from the European Commission’s statistical agency Eurostat revealed that‚ even before the recession set in‚ a higher proportion of older people in the UK were living on incomes far below the national average compared to those in countries such as Poland and Romania.

The figures were released just before a major review of the government’s ‘efforts to tackle pension poverty’ is published tomorrow, July 30.

The EU research‚ which compares relative poverty in the 27 member states‚ shows nearly one in three UK over-65s were living in poverty in 2007‚ the same proportion as in Lithuania (30 per cent).

In most leading European economies‚ pensioner poverty levels are either below or slightly above the EU average of 19 per cent.

In Sweden and the Netherlands the percentages are a third of UK’s.

Pensioners in this country experience the biggest drop in income when they retire‚ with average incomes slashed to 30 per cent of their last salary.

Ahead of the publication on Thursday of the Work and Pension Committee’s review of the Government’s strategy to tackle the issue‚ Age Concern and Help the Aged called on Ministers to scale up their efforts to stamp out pensioner poverty.

Levels have remained stubbornly high in the past four years and no progress was been made in the run-up to the recession‚ according to the government’s own figures.

Recent research by the charity showed one in five people aged 60 and over are skipping meals to save money on food‚ while two fifths are struggling to afford essential items.

Another survey showed that seven in ten over-65s are resorting to thrifty skills picked up during the war and post-war years to help them through the recession.

Although millions of older people in the UK have lower incomes compared to the national average‚ the report shows only around five per cent of them are materially deprived‚ which is a measure based on questions such as whether they can meet unexpected expenses or afford items like a one-week annual holiday away from home‚ meat or fish every second day‚ a colour TV or a car.

Commenting on these figures‚ Michelle Mitchell‚ Charity Director for Age Concern and Help the Aged said: ‘What this report clearly shows is that‚ even before the recession set in‚ many older people weren’t keeping up with the pace at which the general wealth of the nation has increased over the past years.

‘This means they risk being increasingly excluded from community life.

‘In a country where the richest have incomes five times higher than the poorest‚ older people are disproportionately bearing the burden of this inequality.

‘To lift millions of pensioners out of poverty and prevent this situation from getting worse in the future‚ this government and the next must find a more effective system to ensure benefits reach those who need them and meet the existing commitment to reform the pension system by 2012.’

The indicator of relative poverty applied by Eurostat counts poor individuals as living in households where disposable income is below the threshold of 60 per cent of the national median income.

As this is an indicator of relative poverty and does not consider material wealth‚ it is referred to as a measure of poverty risk.

According to the latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)‚ around two million UK pensioners were living in poverty in 2007-2008‚ the same number as in 2006-2007.

Between 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 the number of poor older people increased by 300‚000‚ the first increase after a decade of downward trend.

Material deprivation is a non-monetary indicator of living standards recently adopted by the EU.

It is defined as the enforced lack of at least three of the nine following items: ability to face unexpected expenses‚ ability to pay for a one-week annual holiday away from home‚ existence of arrears (mortgage or rent payments‚ utility bills‚ or hire purchase instalments or other loan payments)‚ capacity to have a meal with meat‚ chicken or fish every second day‚ capacity to keep home adequately warm‚ possession of a washing machine‚ a colour TV‚ a telephone or a personal car.