One in five female pensioners living in poverty, says Age UK
By Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent
About one in five female pensioners is living in poverty, according to Age UK.
Analysis by the charity found around 1.25 million women in this group are now living below the breadline.
Single female pensioners are at much higher risk of being in poverty than single men and pensioner couples, according to the charity.
Pensioners from black and Asian communities (including men and women) are around twice as likely to be living in poverty as white pensioners (33% of Asian pensioners and 30% of black pensioners compared to 16% of white pensioners), Age UK said.
Male and female pensioners who rent their homes are also much more likely to be in poverty than those who own their home outright (38% of private tenants and 36% of tenants in social rented housing compared with 14% of homeowners).
Age UK released the findings as MPs prepare to debate the suspension of the triple lock in Parliament.
The triple lock guarantees that pensions grow in line with whichever is highest out of earnings, inflation or 2.5%.
However, the wages measure within the triple lock has been temporarily removed for one year, due to distortions to wage figures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Age UK said its analysis of Government figures showed that in 2012/13, 14% of female pensioners across the UK were living in relative poverty (living in households with less than 60% of median average household income, after housing costs).
By 2019/20, this percentage had increased to about 20%.
The charity said the increase comes despite increases in women’s state pension age meaning the number of female pensioners in the UK has fallen by about 800,000 since 2012/13.
Age UK said its national advice line hears from thousands of people every year who are worried about older relatives and friends who are struggling to make ends meet.
One person called the charity about a relative in his 80s who was having problems with his electricity and could not afford the new fuse box needed.
The family were in daily contact with him, but it was only when they visited and found him living in a cold, dark house that they realised what a desperate situation he was in.
Another caller phoned to ask for help for their relative – a man who was nearly 90 and lived alone had a leaking roof which had recently soaked his staircase. Despite receiving Pension Credit, he still could not afford to get it fixed.
The charity also heard from a pensioner named Florence who said: “I have worked all my life beginning with a Saturday job at the age of 12 and I am now 76.
“Most of my adult life I have two or more jobs at the same time. I have to budget very carefully for every bill … I don’t expect to be ‘rewarded’ for working – it is something we were always brought up to do but I did imagine I would have enough money to live on, which the current pension certainly isn’t.
“I saved all my life thinking I would have enough money to eke out my pension when necessary, but savings were spent on necessities after retirement and have long since vanished.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “I think many will be shocked to see how many women pensioners are now living in poverty – 1.25 million, equivalent to one in five – a big cause for concern.
“It’s important to recognise too just how much greater the risk of poverty in later life is for women who are black or Asian, compared to their white peers.”
She continued: “It is essential that the Government’s levelling-up agenda covers the issues facing older women.
“Stabilising social care and increasing both the quantity and quality of it on offer would make a big difference to many on low incomes.
“They are unlikely to gain from the Prime Minister’s proposed cap on catastrophic care costs because of having few if any assets to protect.”
Ms Abrahams added: “Our new analysis also shows how vital it is that the triple lock is reactivated again in 2023.
“There may have been reason to suspend it for one year, because of the distortions caused by the pandemic, but if we’re to have any hope of reducing the level of pensioner poverty in our society the triple lock must come back into force again in 12 months’ time.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We are committed to action that helps to alleviate levels of pensioner poverty.
“Our ground-breaking pension reforms, including automatic enrolment, have helped millions more women save into a pension, many for the first time.
“Pension participation among eligible women working in the private sector has risen from 40% in 2012, to 86% in 2019.
“Last year there were 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty than a decade ago and we expect to spend more than £125 billion on benefits for pensioners in 2020/21.”
Age UK is urging anyone who is worried about money or who may be entitled to claim benefits to call its advice line free of charge on 0800 169 65 65 (8am-7pm), visit www.ageuk.org.uk/money or contact their local Age UK for free information and advice.