Last week we launched our End Pensioner Poverty campaign. Joanne Sawyer, Equality and Human Rights Policy Adviser, looks at how the issue of pensioner poverty relates to human rights in the UK.
Today in the UK, 1.6 million older people live in poverty, of whom 900,000 are living in severe poverty. Whilst the number of pensioners living on a low income has fallen considerably in recent years, progress has now stalled and pensioner poverty levels have stayed the same. In practice, this means constant financial worries for some older people and struggles to afford basic essentials like fresh food, warm clothes, and heating during the winter.
This unequal situation persists despite the right of everyone in the UK to an adequate standard of living which includes “adequate food, clothing and housing”, whatever their age and whatever their background. The General Assembly of the UN has stated that “older persons should have access to adequate food, water, shelter, clothing and health care through the provision of income, family and community support and self-help”.
According to the UN Committee which monitors how well states are meeting their duties, poverty is “the lack of basic capabilities to live in dignity” and a denial of human rights. The last time that the UK’s performance on economic and social rights was assessed by the UN (2009), the UN Committee was concerned that poverty levels varied considerably between different groups in the UK. As a result, it urged the UK to “intensify its efforts to combat poverty, fuel poverty, and social exclusion, in particular with regard to the most disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups”.
So it’s clear – more must be done
As our report shows, some older people are at far greater risk of living in poverty than others. Age UK is calling on the Government to
- develop a strategy and set targets for reducing pensioner poverty
- introduce a new programme to make older people aware of the benefits they might be missing out on
- introduce training for local authority staff and health professionals so that they can signpost older people to the support they need.
We hope that the Government will rise to the challenge and tackle this persistent problem. Otherwise, the UK still has a way to go to ensuring that all older people, whatever their backgrounds, are able to live equally in dignity in later life.
 Articles 2 and 11 International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights 1966, ratified by the UK in 1976.
 Principle 1 of the UN Principles for Older Persons, General Assembly Resolution 46/91 of 16 December 1991
 Statement adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Poverty and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 4 May 2001, E/C.12/2001/10
 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Consideration of UK’s combined 4th and 5th periodic reports, E/C.12/GBR/CO/5, May 2009, para. 28.