Food, fuel and funds – let’s create a Labour vision for older people

December 15, 2012 1:19 pm

Over the past few months, an increasing number of articles have painted a portrait of hunger in the UK today. What statistics are available show that increasingly families are struggling. There is rightly concern about children going to school hungry because there isn’t food at home and we should be outraged that parents are going without food to make sure their children eat. It is time that we also focus on the impact of food poverty – of lack of food and poor diet – on older people and consider what we can do as a Party to help them both now and in the future.

Figures from the growing number of foodbanks document breadline Britain. Data from the Trussell Trust which runs a large and growing network of foodbanks across the UK demonstrates that the majority of people they feed are families of one shape or another with children representing almost 40,000 of the 110,000 people fed by the charity between April and September this year.

I think it is vital that we stress the pressures on families. However, it seems to me that there is something missing in this picture and it is part of why we have to remember that foodbanks are a very particular (and I hope temporary) part of the solution to hunger and malnutrition in the UK.

The Trussell Trust says that less than 1% of their clients are over 65. This figure is similar to figures provided by other charities such as the Matthew Tree Project who run a number of ‘food stores’ in Bristol based on a slightly different model. The bottom line is, however, that whatever model of foodbank you look at, the number of clients is increasing dramatically, but the proportion of over-65 year olds is disproportionately low.

One possible reason I have been given for this is that the Minimum Income Guarantee means that pensioners on low income generally have slightly higher low incomes than other groups of people on low incomes. If a pensioner is a homeowner, the mortgage is probably paid off and pensioners are generally less likely to take on crippling levels of consumer debt. While this is true, pensioners are facing the same rising costs of living as the rest of us including rising fuel bills and rising food costs. Almost half of all pensioners live alone and face social isolation. Additionally, single or widowed pensioners may find it harder to cook for themselves, or not feel it is worth cooking a proper meal just for one person.

I am proud of the fact that Labour government dramatically reduced pensioner poverty. However, overall 17% of pensioners are on low incomes (two thirds of them women). This means that the 1% figure implies that the current delivery model of foodbanks doesn’t work for older people. The stigma of going to a charity for food is likely to be even higher with old people. Clearly mobility issues may prevent access. To get food from a foodbank you have to get to there in the first place. And most people who go to a foodbank are in crisis – the model is designed for short term aid.

People have also told me that the lower numbers of pensioners accessing food via foodbanks must mean that the need is not there, or that pensioners are not suffering food poverty. It would be nice to think that this is the case. However, malnutrition levels in pensioners appear – not surprisingly – to mirror levels of low income. So overall in the older population, 15% of people over 65 are malnourished. Malnutrition levels are higher in areas of higher deprivation. For example, in Southwark and Lewisham 30% of pensioners admitted to hospital are suffering from malnutrition mirroring the higher levels of pensioner poverty in these areas.

Labour run Southwark Council is halving the cost of meals-on-wheels at a time when a number of other areas are seeing the cost increase dramatically in the context of huge cuts to local authority budgets. It is this type of intervention that is needed if the largely hidden shame of pensioner malnutrition in Britain today is to be addressed effectively.

However, malnutrition is only one aspect of the problem and meals-on-wheels is only a small part of the solution. We need to establish a Labour vision for old age that addresses access to food, fuel and sufficient money to live on.  This needs to be tied in to an integrated model for social care so pensioners are able to have the decent lifestyle they deserve and one we can all look forward to rather than dread.

Fiona Twycross is a Labour Londonwide Assembly Member and is currently leading an investigation in to food poverty in London on behalf of the London Assembly www.london.gov.uk/foodpoverty

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    I think we need to get rid of this simplistic concept of ‘pensioners’ as one large, uniform group – with people living so much longer it doesn’t work, it doesn’t recognise the huge differences between people at either end of the age range and it makes discussion difficult because it’s not clear who is the focus.

    Solutions for a healthy, mobile 68 year old may not work for a frail, housebound 86 year old. Similarly the causes may not be the same – you could have a malnourished 86 year old with plenty of money but if they can only walk to the nearest shop and are limited in what they can buy to what they can carry back, more money may not solve the problem.

  • DerekW

    Given that all Governments – including Labour (new or otherwise) – have asked people to save, isn’t it time a Government ensured that savings at least kept pace with inflation.

    Why the hell should I subsidise the mortage of a chinless wonder in the City or enable the dishonest finance sector boast about low borrowing rates? They are parasites on the rest of society – and from personal knowledge unworthy of their basic salary, let alone ‘bonuses’

Latest

  • Comment We want to build relationships with Labour – but they need to take some bold steps

    We want to build relationships with Labour – but they need to take some bold steps

    First my credentials. I have supported Labour at every election since I was old enough to vote. I am a party member of some 30 years standing. Why then, as the General Secretary of the trade union for staff in further and higher education am I in such utter despair at the timidity of the policy offer made by Labour to the members I represent and their students? Let’s be clear, I believe the coalition’s policies have been a disaster […]

    Read more →
  • News I was “never ever complicit” in illegal rendition or torture, says Jack Straw

    I was “never ever complicit” in illegal rendition or torture, says Jack Straw

    Jack Straw has condemned the use of torture and denied being complicit in the torture of suspected terrorists, following the publication of a report in America concerning the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs). Straw was Labour’s Foreign Secretary from 2001 to 2006, during the foremost years of the “War on Terror” and the UK’s military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Questions have been raised concerning what members of the British government knew about the use of EITs, but […]

    Read more →
  • Comment How not to change the constitution

    How not to change the constitution

    In this Parliament AV was rejected, Lords reform stumbled and even the Tories attempt to ‘equalise’ constituencies fell. ‘The Implications of Devolution for England’ already looks unhealthily like these other failed constitutional reforms. Nonetheless, the issue holds real dangers for Labour. Hague’s partisan and divisive Commons statement showed the Tories’ more concerned to maximise difference than to bring people together for the good of England. Yet even this couldn’t disguise Conservative divisions. In three months his Cabinet Committee failed to […]

    Read more →
  • News “Our choice is the country’s choice” – Lisa Nandy’s LabourList Christmas Lecture

    “Our choice is the country’s choice” – Lisa Nandy’s LabourList Christmas Lecture

    On Monday evening Lisa Nandy MP gave the LabourList Christmas Lecture to launch her pamphlet “Our Labour Our Communities” – you can download the pamphlet here. Here’s the text of that lecture: We’ve got five months to go until the most important General Election in a generation. And over the last year, as I’ve spent time with Labour candidates meeting and listening to people in communities as diverse as Brighton, Norwich and Calder Valley it seems to me the overwhelming […]

    Read more →
  • News Polling New Ashcroft polls shows the point where the Labour gains stop coming

    New Ashcroft polls shows the point where the Labour gains stop coming

    The latest batch of marginals polling carried out by Lord Ashcroft has been published today, and it does not bring many glad tidings for Labour. The polling covers four Labour seats: Dudley North, Great Grimsby, Plymouth Moor View and Rother Valley; eight Conservative seats: Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, Ealing Central & Acton, Elmet & Rothwell, Harrow East, Pendle, South Swindon, Stevenage, and Warwick & Leamington; and one Green Party seat: Brighton Pavilion. All of the Conservative held seats, bar Warwick & […]

    Read more →