Social Justice

'I just cry': Millions of elderly Brits in poverty as state pension falls short of basic living costs

Around £2.2billion of pension credit – an additional benefit paid to low-income pensioners – goes unclaimed every year. One pensioner shares her story of struggling to cope in the cost of living crisis and the importance of claiming benefits you are entitled to

pensioner yvonne

Yvonne Bailey has battled to keep up with the surging cost of living. Image: Independent Age

Pensioner Yvonne Bailey has nothing left after rent and bills. A trip to a restaurant or cinema is out of the question. She has no choice but to avoid socialising. Sometimes she just cries.

“I suffer with depression,” the 78-year-old from Oxfordshire says. “I have on and off all my adult life, but now it’s at the point where stupid things like a sad advert come on the TV and I just cry. That’s not me. I’m usually a glass-half-full lady and always have been, despite my trials and tribulations.”

Bailey has been widowed for 26 years and tragically lost her eldest son in a road traffic accident the same year. She lives alone with only her dog for company. Her remaining family are not local.

The winter months have been especially long and lonely in the cost of living crisis.

“There was one particular week where it was absolutely freezing,” Bailey says. “I couldn’t get by with just putting the heating on for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. It was too cold. That week, it cost me over £40 for the gas.

“What irritates me more than anything is that the cost of fuel has come down considerably, and companies are making millions upon millions and nobody’s doing anything.”

There are currently 2.1 million pensioners living in poverty in the UK. New research from the Centre for Aging Better has found that state pension leaves a single pensioner more than £50 short each week to meet a minimum standard of living.

Dr Carol Easton, the chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, says: “The government have said they want this country to be the best place to grow old in. But we currently have the worst state pension offering among OECD countries, while one million of the poorest pensioners have no private or workplace pension. Clearly we have a long way to go.

“The cost of living crisis has clearly been a very difficult time for many of our nation’s pensioners who are being forced to cut back on even the basic essentials of life. But it is also impacting the ability of workers to save and to contribute to a pension, creating the substantial risk of even greater pensioner poverty in the near future.”



A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “Nearly 1.4 million pensioners receive pension credit, worth £3,900 a year, and our nationwide campaign has helped drive applications to an all-time high. 

“We remain committed to pensioners – last year we made the biggest ever cash increase to the state pension and are delivering a further increase of 8.5% in April while committing to the triple lock. 

“On top of this continuing support, which includes £5billion in pensioner cost of living payments help with essential costs this winter – there are now 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty than in 2010.”

But even after benefits are increased by 8.5% in April, state pension is still likely to fall short for many pensioners.

The Centre for Aging Better is calling for a government strategy to increase the uptake of pension credit, including specific and tailored support for pensioners from minority ethnic backgrounds most at risk of poverty.

Pensioners on the lowest incomes can get an additional benefit known as pension credit to help them survive – but up to £2.1bn in pension credit went unclaimed in the financial year ending 2022, according to the most recent government estimates. That means up to 880,000 families missed out on an average of £2,200 per year.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of Independent Age, a charity which has supported Bailey, says: “What makes these numbers even more worrying is that they cover a turbulent period that saw the end of the pandemic and the start of the cost of living crisis, events that have caused misery for millions of older people on low incomes across the UK. 

“We have heard firsthand from countless people over 65 living in financial hardship just how difficult it has been, including incredibly sad stories of people going to bed in hats and coats because they can’t afford to heat their home, to eating dog food to save money.”

Bailey had initially been told that she was not eligible for pension credit, and she presumed that was right, so she did not apply. It was six years later, when she approached Citizens Advice about another concern entirely, that they suggested she apply for pension credit.

“While I was there, the chap asked me about my finances and what my income was, and he said I could get pension credit,” Bailey recalls. “I said that I’ve been told I’m not eligible. That was utter rubbish. I got pension credit. 

“That was thanks to Citizens Advice. I’m a great advocate for people to apply because and that’s why I’m trying to help with raising awareness about that. People are entitled. You’ve worked all your life and you’ve paid in all your life.”

Bailey, a former receptionist, gets an extra £78 a week from pension credit. She has fibromyalgia and severe osteoarthritis, so she gets the disability living allowance which tops up her income by £68 each week. Along with her state pension, it’s a total monthly income of around £1,400.

It is still not enough – but without those extra benefits, Bailey does not know how she would survive.

“It is heartbreaking that hundreds of thousands of older people have suffered needlessly, while this money has been available all along,” Elson adds. “It’s clear that efforts to raise awareness of pension credit failed to reach the right people. 

“The government must quickly learn from its mistakes and consider a more targeted approach that gets money directly into the pockets of those that need help. We want to see the introduction of a pension credit uptake strategy that spells out how older people living in, or on the edge of poverty can access the financial support they are entitled to receive.”

Pensioners who did not claim pension credit also miss out on the additional benefits it opens the door to, including council tax reduction, cold weather payments and money towards optical and dental treatment.

Bailey believes that the government is choosing not to raise awareness of pension credit because they do not want to sacrifice the money. 

“They’ve got that pot of money,” she claims. “So they can do what they like with it. And they don’t want to give it out. They don’t want to give any benefits to anybody that can’t work. It’s all about getting people back to work now, even disabled people. 

“This Tory party, they have no perception of what it’s like to live as an ordinary working-class person. They’ve never been there. They’ve never done it. And they don’t want to know about it. That’s their attitude. It’s all about making money for them.

“It is totally wrong. Totally wrong. And then you’ve got people like myself, low-income families, and people that are working who are still having to claim benefits. That’s not right in this day and age. We are supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Where to find help getting pension credit and other resources in the cost of living crisis

Find out more about applying for pension credit and other information through Independent Age – you can also find more information on getting support with the cost of living crisis and other financial worries through the charity’s website.

The government’s website also has information on applying for pension credit. You can find a round-up on help for households in the cost of living crisis here.

If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t suffer in silence. We signpost resources here. Call Samaritans for free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org for useful resources and advice on coping if you are struggling with your mental health.

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