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 Four things Labour’s moderates need to do before the next leadership election

    Four things Labour’s moderates need to do before the next leadership election

    Whatever the outcome of the Labour leadership election one thing is clear, we moderates in the party were smashed. This may have been easier to stomach if the candidate or campaign had been rubbish – they weren’t. They were actually quite good. But as Lynton Crosby says “you can’t fatten a pig on market day” and it is clear now the moderate wing of the party’s campaign infrastructure is sorely lacking. There are some noble reasons for this. But that […]

    Read more →
  • News How do you get a title? Cameron and Clegg dish out honours to their advisers

    How do you get a title? Cameron and Clegg dish out honours to their advisers

    How do you get a title these days? The latest batch dissolution honours and peerages seem to suggest something of a theme. Of the 82 handed out today, 30 have been given to people who have worked for senior Tory and Lib Dem politicians in some way, while 4 recipients are former Lib Dem MPs who were voted out this May. New titles have been handed to 20 people who are or have been senior advisers in the Government, while […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Eight new Labour peers announced

    Eight new Labour peers announced

    Eight new Labour peers have been announced today, in the latest batch of dissolution peerages. The list includes Tessa Jowell, who is currently in the running to become Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, and former Chancellor Alistair Darling. The full list is: Rt Hon David Blunkett – former MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough and former Cabinet Minister Rt Hon Alistair Darling – former MP for Edinburgh South West and former Cabinet Minister Rt Hon Peter Hain – former MP […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour needs to be a more welcoming and accessible grassroots movement for women and mothers

    Labour needs to be a more welcoming and accessible grassroots movement for women and mothers

    Jeremy Corbyn’s recent commitment to a 50% female shadow cabinet and working towards 50% of Labour M.P’s being female is yet another important and welcome policy aimed at tackling gender inequality from the Corbyn camp. But, the question of women’s representation within worker and political organisations is an issue that needs to be fleshed out with some practical suggestions around how we actually reach the target set out by Corbyn. And more importantly, how we ensure a more welcoming and […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Wales would pay the highest price for a Corbyn victory

    Wales would pay the highest price for a Corbyn victory

    Labour’s inevitable defeat under a Corbyn leadership is understandably fixated on 2020, yet at least a quarter of the country would be granted a test-drive on this express lane to extinction. As the only UK region with a Labour government, next May’s Welsh elections will be ground zero for Corbynmania’s logical endgame. Welsh Labour has an uphill task to begin with. Its leads in opinion polls have collapsed in recent years. Its handling of public services is frequently highlighted in […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit