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Demands to tackle pensioner poverty

PUBLISHED: 06:00 30 July 2009 | UPDATED: 11:08 06 July 2010

A report calling on the government to make the same commitment to eradicating pensioner poverty as it has to ending child poverty has been welcomed in Norfolk.

By REBECCA GOUGH and JON WELCH

A report calling on the government to make the same commitment to eradicating pensioner poverty as it has to ending child poverty has been welcomed in Norfolk.

The cross-party House of Commons work and pensions committee said it was "unacceptable" that two million pensioners remained in poverty across the country, with 1.1 million surviving on less than half average income.

The report also called for the abolition of the "discriminatory and unnecess-ary" compulsory retirement age - curr-ently 65, but subject to a government review brought forward to next year.

Lin Mathews, information, advice and advocacy team leader at Age Concern Norfolk, said: "Recent research we carried out showed that one in five over the age of 60 were skipping meals to save money for bills. That's a clear indicator there's poverty.

"I think the government should be doing more; it was bad before the recession, but it's worse now. I think the elderly generation is rather stoic and we have to encourage them to claim what they're entitled to.

"People could say they should make provisions, but we've been hit with people whose pensions have not progressed as they should have done. When people had made provisions, for some it's been taken away from them."

Edith Pocock, president of Norfolk and Norwich Pensioners' Association, and vice-president of its Anglia branch, welcomed the report, but said she was sceptical that it would be acted upon during the recession.

"It's a positive move. We're in contact with MPs all the time, but I think it's a shame that we have to keep on and on about people being properly looked after," she said.

"Pensioners are better off now than they were five or 10 years ago with pension credit and various other things, but a lot don't know about what they're entitled to claim."

The current economic downturn threatens to condemn older people to "a life of poverty in retirement" unless action is taken to avoid the experience of previous recessions, when many in their 50s lost their job and never worked again, warned the Commons committee.

And the MPs called for the personal expenses allowance (PEA) paid to around 250,000 pensioners in residential care to be nearly doubled to £40 from its current level of £21.90 a week, which the report found "does not allow pensioners to live in dignity".

PEA is intended to pay for items like clothes, toiletries, hairdressing and phone calls and should be maintained at a "decent" level, which allows older people "to live fulfilled lives and to keep in contact with their families", they said.

Mrs Mathews said Age Concern had fought "long and hard" for the PEA to be increased.

"We led that campaign and we sent peanuts to the government because that's what the government was giving them. We want fairer pensions for all," she said.

The report, published today, acknowledged that the government's introduction of pension credit had lifted large numbers of pensioners out of poverty, but said that enrolment in the scheme had now reached a "plateau", with efforts to reach more elderly people delivering "diminishing returns".

After falling in the early years of the Labour administration from 1997, rates of pensioner poverty have remained at their current level since 2004-05.

The report voiced concern about the different payments made under disability living allowance (DLA) for those who become disabled under the age of 65 and the less generous attendance allowance for those who become disabled after 65.

Despite warnings from ministers that granting DLA to all disabled pensioners would cost "billions of pounds", the MPs insisted that the different treatment offered to people with the same needs could not be "objectively and reasonably justified".

Committee chairman Terry Rooney said: "The government has done a lot to help pensioners, but there is a lot still to do. The government has committed to eradicating child poverty, now they need to commit to eradicating pensioner poverty."

Pensions minister Angela Eagle said: "The government has already shown its commitment by lifting more than 900,000 pensioners out of poverty since 1997, breaking the link between age and poverty.

"We recognise there is more to do, which is why, even in these difficult economic times, we have targeted an extra £4bn to helping our pensioners this year."

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