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The scandal of pensioner poverty

A significant achievement of the last Labour government was a reduction in pensioner poverty.

In 1996/97, 42% of single female pensioners were in poverty while the high point for single male pensioner poverty was 34% in 1997/98.  By 2009 these had fallen to 18% and 14% respectively.

Since 2010, single pensioner poverty has seen once again a systematic rise to 24% for females and 20% for males, and the rise looks set to continue.

Along with rising child poverty, it is a scandal of a decade of austerity.




According to analysis by the Rowntree Trust, a significant cause of rising pensioner poverty is housing costs.  For those in social housing, the poverty rate peaked at 54% in 1996/97, fell to 20% in 2012/13, and has risen back to 31% in 2016/17. For those renting from private landlords, the peak was 46% in 1997/98, and the low point was 27% in 2007/08, before rising back up to 36% in 2016/17.

With so many people set to retire with inadequate pensions, we are likely to see a continuing…

That was the week.

The news that former Labour prime minister Harold Wilson was to be remembered with a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey was a time to reflect on his achievements. In my article, 'Harold Wilson a memorial to better days', I observed that with time 'heroes may loose their sheen whilst those denigrated may gain respect.' The latter has certainly been true for Harold Wilson. 

The achievements of his two periods of office, but particularly that of 1964-70 are impressive by today's standards. Buffeted by economic winds there was nonetheless a massive improvement in peoples lives with significant reforms. It is difficult now to consider why it has taken so long for us to realise it. Perhaps it is because those of us who lived through and were politically active in those times came out of it all somewhat battle fatigued. We spent a great deal of time campaigning against the war in Vietnam. Wilson kept us out of it!  We argued about the merits of prices and incomes policies. The Unions didn't like it and nor did businesses.  In those days of the Welfare State we believed that social problems required social solutions. We didn't see society as simply an aggregate of individuals pursuing self interest. There was a massive increase in welfare provision, protection for tenants, rent control and building of social housing. All this made a real difference to people's lives. It was the last period when we could say that we were becoming a more equal society, or at least where there was measurable social mobility. Harold Wilson famously said of the Labour movement that it was 'a crusade or it was nothing'. It is time for a renewal of that crusade. 

The Work and Pensions Secretary of State, Ian Duncan-Smith was getting his sums wrong and in an article on 'Why Mr Duncan-Smith's figures on incapacity benefits don't stack up' I explained why.  In short, the system of incapacity benefit assessment being imposed is discredited. It is discredited on the numbers and it is discredited by the yardsticks of fairness, competency and ethics. Many of the decisions appear to be cruel and arbitrary and take little account of the real circumstances of the claimant. 

This was the theme pursued throughout the week. In 'Why the government policies on incapacity benefits are unethical' I  argued that they are unethical because they are poorly conceived, based on false statistics and are harmful.  To make the poor pay for their poverty is unethical. Making the poor pay for the financial crisis brought on by unethical banking is not simply unethical; it is immoral. 

People suffering from mental health problems are often the most vulnerable when seeking help. Mental health can have a major impact on work, housing, relationships and finances. This was the theme of the article 'Work Capability Assessments cause   suffering for the mentally ill'  in which I argued that the assessment regime was not fit for purpose and was likely to cause harm to those suffering mental illness. And the evidence for this was presented and considered in the last article 'The unfairness of ATOS WCA'.  People's lives are a narrative. They are not disjointed bits of data. Disability isn't simply a problem confined to the individual as a physical being but also as a social being.  The social condition can have as much of an impact as any measure of 'disability'; circumstances can be disabling. Any system that fails to take account of this is likely to be unfair and to cause harm. Mental Health organisations have warned of the need for expertise in assessments, yet this has been dismissed. The BMA has expressed its concern that the assessment regime is unjust and is compromising doctors. To date these concerns have been ignored. 

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