Blog written by Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director, Age UK
It was early Monday evening: darkness had fallen and in Westminster all attention was on the ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament the following day. On College Green the media tents were being erected and ‘beyond the bubble’ the news bulletins contained little other than speculation about how the vote would turn out.
Older people featured rather significantly in the public spending review to 2015/16. The Chancellor talked quite forcefully about the need to address the problems in social care, and in his consideration of welfare spending, he firmly identified state pensions as remaining outside his proposed new ‘cap’.
The landscape for the next Government is coming into view, but what does it mean for older people beyond the rhetoric? By 2016, of course, we should be implementing the legislation currently being debated in Parliament and have in place a new single tier state pension and a new social care regime – funded in part by the ideas proposed by Andrew Dilnot. The spending plans suggest that more money will be diverted from NHS budgets into programmes jointly commissioned with social care. If this means more integrated care and a more ‘whole person’ approach, it will be welcome. But before we get there, local government will have taken another severe cut in its budget, and there is speculation that social care support may be prioritised only for those with critical needs. This means we will remain far away from the ambition to provide the appropriate care which promotes independence and prevents people from becoming substantially or critically in need of care. Continue reading “Spending Review 2013”
The latest annual report from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) covers the year 2011 – many energy price hikes and policy changes ago. The headline is that in England, the numbers of households in fuel poverty fell, from 3.3m in 2010 to 3.2m (and in the UK from 4.75m to 4.5m). These are the households which need to spend 10% or more of their income on energy to keep adequately warm, a definition we have all become accustomed to using. But DECC’s report has turned into a statistical soup, as it struggles to introduce a new definition of fuel poverty (which measures two different things), and reports anyway on a year long forgotten.
For what it’s worth, 2011 was mild (for both the winter months at the beginning and end), and this led to a fall in national domestic energy consumption. It was also the last year when the (now abolished) Warm Front programme was operating at full speed – the tax-funded grant programme targeted on low income households – so energy efficiency improvements were driving forward alongside the schemes offered by the energy supply companies to save energy.
Welfare reform and the benefits system have been high on the news agenda recently, but an often overlooked issue is the persistent problem of pensioner poverty. With 1.7m pensioners (14%) currently living in poverty, and £5.5bn pounds of benefits left unclaimed by pensioners, Age UK has re-launched its Let’s Talk Money campaign.
A significant amount of research highlights that there are many reasons why older people aren’t claiming the benefits that they are entitled to – from a perception that the application process is too complicated, to the belief that they don’t qualify.
With so many people slipping through the net, Age UK aims to challenge the myths around eligibility, and encourage older people to claim the benefits that they are entitled to so that they can make the most of later life.
The campaign continues to focus on encouraging older people to claim the benefits they are entitled to, such as Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and Attendance Allowance.
People on low incomes can use the extra money that benefits provide to pay for utility bills, broken appliances or some much needed help around the house – removing financial stress that is a burden for so many. Continue reading “Let’s Talk Money”
Winter fuel paymentsare in the news yet again. I have lost count of the number of reports and media articles I have read about why these should be reformed and how the money could be better used to cut the deficit or transform our failing system of care or solve some other crisis. And please don’t tell me again that millionaires don’t need a winter fuel payment or a bus pass. Of course not – but let’s make policy changes based on the position of majority of older people not the small minority who are very rich. (when the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out last year that Alan Sugar didn’t need a bus pass Lord Sugar tweeted in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t have one!).
So should we be looking at restricting universal payments to the less well off? It has been suggested that they should just go to people receiving Pension Credit. However that would mean that up to 1.6 million of the poorest older people would miss out because they are not claiming the Pension Credit they are entitled to. The big advantage of universal payments is that they reach everyone including those do not take up means-tested benefits. They also provide some extra help to the ‘not rich but not poor’ group who can feel because they made sacrifices during their working lives they miss out on benefits and are penalised for having saved. Continue reading “Winter fuel payments again……”
It seems incredible that, in the name of cost saving and to prevent a few well off pensioners from receiving some pretty modest benefits, ministers can be entertaining the idea of extending means-testing.
Making people apply for benefits they are entitled to is notoriously inefficient. Pension Credit is not claimed by about 30 per cent of those eligible and Council Tax Benefit by about 40 per cent. When Gordon Brown refused to increase the state pension above the rate of inflation (with a freakish inflation figure in 1999 leading to a 75p increase), he argued that a means-tested Pension Credit was the efficient answer.
However, even he exercised a balance, by making the Winter Fuel Payments universal and restricting the free TV licence to the oldest – who are demonstrably the poorest part of our none-too-wealthy older population, and of course a means-tested claim costs ten times as much to process as an automatic one.