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

15th December, 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 Trade Union Action Week Unions The Government are effectively creating state-sponsored blacklisting

    The Government are effectively creating state-sponsored blacklisting

    This week my union UCATT announced that it had secured compensation worth £5.6 million for 71 of our members who had their lives ruined by blacklisting. This is a major milestone in a seven year battle, on behalf of workers who were blacklisted on an industrial scale by major construction companies. Other workers are likely to secure compensation in the coming weeks and a High Court case is scheduled for May, when those guilty of blacklisting will be held to […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Labour fears as Tories confirm plan to cut number of MPs

    Labour fears as Tories confirm plan to cut number of MPs

    Labour’s attempts to win a majority in the Commons have come under further attack as the Government vowed to press ahead with plans to cut the number of MPs by 50 to 600. The move, is expected to hit Labour disproportionately, was confirmed by Ministers today. Oliver Letwin chose to ignore the recommendations of a cross-party committee of MPs – which criticised the Government’s plans as “unsatisfactory”- and claimed there was “no merit” in re-opening the issue. The Tories want […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Corbyn tells doubters: I won’t retire

    Corbyn tells doubters: I won’t retire

    Jeremy Corbyn has vowed not to retire as Labour leader and said he was inspired by his father to continue working beyond the pensionable age. He said his age, 66, was no barrier to appealing to younger voters and dismissed the prospect of quitting. Corbyn’s opponents have questioned his stamina but he struck a defiant note, saying: “I’ve never gone through life with the intention of retiring. My dad didn’t retire. He died working. Not because he was forced to […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Europe Featured UK cities must not be hit from Tory EU rows – Liverpool mayor

    UK cities must not be hit from Tory EU rows – Liverpool mayor

    If some commentators are to be believed, we are just a few short months away from a referendum of whether we stay in the European Union. The single biggest political decision any of us will have made (at least since the last time we voted on it in 1975) is fast creeping up on us. Unfortunately, so much of the coverage focuses on the psychodrama that is the Conservative party. Which ministers will back David Cameron’s renegotiated deal? And which […]

    Read more →
  • News Karie Murphy wins role in Corbyn’s office

    Karie Murphy wins role in Corbyn’s office

    The former Labour candidate at the centre of the Falkirk selection row has been appointed to a job in Jeremy Corbyn’s office Karie Murphy is expected to start work next week as office manager for the leader of the Opposition. Murphy, an ally of Unite boss Len McCluskey, stepped down as the Falkirk candidate for the UK parliament in 2013 following allegations that Unite tried to fix the selection in her favour. Both Murphy and Unite were cleared of any […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit