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

  • News Polling Scotland SNP ahead of Labour in new Westminster voting intention poll

    SNP ahead of Labour in new Westminster voting intention poll

    The Scottish National Party has reportedly tripled its membership since the independence referendum on September 18th, a boost which sees them become the third largest party, membership wise, in the whole of the UK. A new Panelbase poll of Scottish voters shows that this gain is being replicated in general support too, as they move ahead of Labour – not just in Holyrood, but in Westminster voting intentions too. The poll of voters in Scotland for the general election next […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Want to tackle UKIP? Treat every Labour constituency like a marginal seat

    Want to tackle UKIP? Treat every Labour constituency like a marginal seat

    There is a lot of debate at the moment about what we should do to address ‘the UKIP problem’. I’m relieved that the Labour Party is finally acknowledging that there is one after years of simply brushing off UKIP as a much bigger problem for the Conservatives than for us. While recent defections show that to be true, we have serious problems of our own – particularly in the North – with some traditional Labour voters switching from Labour to […]

    Read more →
  • Featured 20 things Cameron forgot in his conference speech

    20 things Cameron forgot in his conference speech

    Yesterday David Cameron stood up in Birmingham to set out his vision to the country. He announced £7.2 billion of spending commitments. Shockingly, however, he totally forgot to tell us where the money to pay for them would come from. Even now we are waiting to find out how he will fund his pledges. Until he recovers his memory and tells the country, this will fundamentally undermine any claim to economic credibility the Tories may seek. But this wasn’t all. David […]

    Read more →
  • News Cabinet feud turns sweary: is the Coalition falling apart?

    Cabinet feud turns sweary: is the Coalition falling apart?

    Coalition relations have reached “a new low point” following Theresa May’s speech on Tuesday, according to Nick Clegg. It seems that, for once, Clegg might have judged things correctly: a Home Office source has reacted to the comments by branding the Deputy Prime Minister “a wanker”. On his LBC call-in radio show this morning Clegg said that May’s speech to Tory Party Conference this week “was one of the most misleading and outrageous platform speeches I’ve heard in conference season for […]

    Read more →
  • Comment To be a party for all workers, we need to protect the self-employed

    To be a party for all workers, we need to protect the self-employed

    Ed Miliband pledged in his speech to conference last week to end a “21st century discrimination” and fight to “deliver equal rights for the self-employed in Britain”. According to Ed, this is the new frontline on which the Labour Party must battle on behalf of the workers. And make no mistake, it has a lot of ground to cover. Of the 4.6 million people classified as self-employed, only 30% have any kind of pension. Median earnings for the self-employed have […]

    Read more →
7ads6x98y