“Declining home-ownership and rising rents mean that one in six may have to choose between food and heat, warns Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
One in six pensioners is now living in poverty as a result of declining home ownership, soaring rents and the benefits freeze, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned. Pensioner poverty is rising, having fallen steadily for nearly two decades, the charity said. The figures prompt fears that many pensioners will be forced to choose between paying for heating and buying food this winter, as benefits remain frozen below inflation for the third year in a row.
The foundation’s chief executive, Campbell Robb, said: “Pensioner poverty is a problem that we thought had gone away.”
The incidence had halved over 20 years, but began rising again in 2012-13. By 2016-17, 16% of pensioners were living in poverty, rising to 31% among those in social housing and 36% among private renters. Poverty here is “relative poverty” – an income of less than 60% of the median among pensioners, after housing costs.
Robb said: “For middle-aged people who have been struggling over the past few years, who don’t have many savings and don’t own their own home, the prospect of being a pensioner is very challenging.” The “golden age” when people enjoyed rising home-ownership and well-paid work was coming to an end, he added. About 20% of all pensioners rent their home, and the proportion is growing.
The problem is compounded by the benefits freeze, in place since 2016. “As rent goes up faster than housing benefit, pensioners have a huge gap to fill,” Robb said. “This tips people into poverty, and forces them to choose between food and heating.”
Figures published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies this year reveal that relative poverty among pensioners has risen in the past five years, while “absolute poverty” – an income of less than 60% of what the median of the general population was in 2010-11 – has fallen by just 1%. By comparison, absolute pensioner poverty fell by 12% between 2002-03 and 2007-08, and by 3% between 2007-08 and 2011-12.
The foundation called on the government to end the benefits freeze and to build genuinely affordable housing. “These figures are part of a wider increase in poverty across all age-groups,” said Robb. “If we don’t tackle the causes now, we fear that we are going to see poverty – particularly among pensioners – rise even more.”