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Author: Duane Farrell, Director of Policy
Published on 01 April 2014 10:00 AM

Winners, losers and other ways to look at things.

Wow – a busy week for older people’s issues, with reports on poverty and older workers being launched, guidelines on the provision of care released, and a really important discussion on social isolation and loneliness being facilitated by Engage with Age.

One of the most striking aspects about the last week has been the reaction to the launch of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland 2014 report. I woke up on Tuesday morning to news bulletins reporting that older people have fared best of all groups in society in terms of poverty rates over the last 5 years. The data is clear - there has been a reduction in the levels of pensioner poverty over the last 5 years, in direct contrast to the rise in other groupings such as working age adults and children.

It would be easy to think, on the basis of the reporting carried on Tuesday, that poverty is not an issue for older people. However, if you drill down below the headline statistics, you begin to uncover a different story, and the complexity of pensioner poverty in Northern Ireland. 

The poverty line in general has fallen over the last number of years, as the impact of the recession means that incomes in general have decreased. This means that someone can be above the poverty line and still be living on the same income as they were 5 years ago. Against a backdrop of high energy prices and high inflation rates, it will not necessarily mean that people’s quality of life will be any better.

Colleagues in Age UK have been tracking the impact of inflation on older people and estimate that older people are £1,000 a year worse off than the general population for a range of reasons. Estimates suggest that there are around 14,000 pensioners in NI who are above the 2011/12 poverty line but below the 2006/07 line, after adjusting for inflation. That’s around 4.8 percentage points. A fact that goes to demonstrate some of the limitations of our poverty measures.

The comment was made at Tuesday’s event that there is more inequality among older people than perhaps there is between older people and other sections of society. An analysis of pensioner incomes in 2003-06 and 2008-11 show a small increase in gross income for the poorest fifth of pensioners (£4 per week) and a big increase for the richest fifth (£101 per week). Which goes to show that we cannot think of older people as all the same.

The age sector has long supported a life course approach to preventing poverty. Addressing the poverty experienced by children and working age people improves the chances of those people being able to have a comfortable later life. However, we must also focus on the 16% of pensioners who are living in poverty today. A continued focus on benefit uptake, improving the outcomes for people aged 50+  in return to work programmes, social price support to help with the burden of fuel costs are just some of the way we can do this.

So, if you hear people talk about how older people are ‘the winners’ at the moment in our society, feel free to share the facts.

For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575