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Opinion

Number of pensioners in poverty will double by 2040 unless next government acts

Projections show almost four million pensioners will be living in poverty by 2040. It threatens to destroy the dream of a relaxed and comfortable later life, writes Independent Age's Joanna Elson

pensioner poverty

The next government is being urged to prevent pensioners from falling into poverty over the next 25 years. Image: Claudia Love / Unsplash

Working for a charity supporting older people in poverty, I’m often taken back by the reality of financial hardship in later life. The current statistics show that, shockingly, one in six people aged over 65 in the UK are in poverty, and daily, I hear stories of some of these peoples’ experiences.

A grandmother losing almost two stone because she’s been forced to skip meals. An 85-year old’s hospitalisation due to illness caused by what he suspects was his damp, mouldy rented home. An older lady who uses her phone torch at night because she’s scared to use the lights, despite putting her at risk of further falls. This is what poverty in later life looks like today.

Affecting around two million older people, the situation of financial hardship is already bad. Now, our new research projects that it could get worse.

At Independent Age, we commissioned research from the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, a consortium of housing policy institutions, to project poverty levels and housing tenure for 2040, if current policies and trends stay the same. In a little over 15 years, we could be looking at a catastrophe.

The research that makes up our new Keys to the Future report projects that, by 2040:

  • Poverty in later life will rise to affect almost one in four (23%), or 3.9 million, from 2.1 million currently.  
  • Poverty will increase more for older women than older men, going from 20% currently to 26%, or affecting over a quarter of older women.
  • Poverty levels among older people with a disability will increase significantly from 18% currently to almost one in three (29%). 
  • Half (50%) of older private renters will be in poverty.  

The projections are staggering. They threaten to destroy the dream of the comfortable and relaxed later life that we’d all want and deserve.

Poverty in later life is a terrible situation to find yourself in. As well as forcing older people to make terrible choices like whether to heat their home or eat, it removes your dignity, with some older people telling us they’re only washing in cold water or flushing the loo once a day. The freedom of a simple pleasure like going for a cup of tea with friends or visiting the cinema is out of the question for many. One older person on a low income said that they were “not living, just surviving”.

This isn’t just a tragedy for individuals and their families and community. It weakens our society through weakening the people in it, with just one of the costs of poverty in later life being the increased health and social needs caused by having to make cuts to food and energy use.

Many of the people we speak to never thought they’d be in this situation. Affected by ill health, bereavement or relationship breakdown, the reasons people find themselves in financial hardship in later life could strike almost anyone. That’s why averting this outcome should matter to all of us.

Big Issue is demanding an end to poverty this general election. Will you sign our open letter to party leaders?

Today and tomorrow’s older people need:

  • The next UK government to conducta cross-party review to agree what level of income is needed in retirement to avoid poverty and to then make sure older people receive this, including all social security entitlements.
  • The next UK government to make sure renters on a low income are adequately supported to pay their rent through local housing allowance.
  • For renters in England, the next UK government to reform the private rental sector so no one faces no fault evictions or financial discrimination and everyone has a decent home and longer notice periods.
  • The Scottish government and Parliament to progress the Housing Bill to create a new system of rent controls, strengthen tenants’ rights and improve support for people facing eviction and homelessness.
  • For political parties across the nations to commit to investing in more social housing.

By working together, political parties across the UK have the power to rewrite the script and prevent this terrible future from being realised. With collective action, we can make sure that everyone has a dignified and fulfilling later life to look forward to.

Joanna Elson is the chief executive of Independent Age.

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.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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