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

  • Featured News Burnham: Labour is “too frightened by its own shadow”, I’ll recapture the spirit of 1945

    Burnham: Labour is “too frightened by its own shadow”, I’ll recapture the spirit of 1945

    Andy Burnham will tomorrow pledge to recapture the spirit of Clement Attlee’s Government, and slam the modern Labour Party for being “too frightened by its own shadow” to support policies as bold as the ones that saw the creation of the NHS. Speaking in Leeds on Tuesday evening, he will mark the 70th anniversary of Attlee becoming Prime Minister with a speech entitled ‘Recapturing the spirit of ’45’. The leadership candidate and Shadow Health Secretary will use the opportunity to […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Weekly survey: entryism, Labour split and general election performance

    Weekly survey: entryism, Labour split and general election performance

    Harriet Harman has been urged to halt the leadership contest over claims that there is evidence of widespread entryism from the far left. However, Jeremy Corbyn rejected these claims, saying “The entryism that I see is lots of young people who were hitherto not very excited by politics coming in for the first time.”  What do you think? Are you concerned that people who do not share Labour’s values might vote in the leadership election? Have your say here. Some have also […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Corbyn-supporting MP calls for a halt to “personalised infighting” and proposes consultation strategy for the next leader

    Corbyn-supporting MP calls for a halt to “personalised infighting” and proposes consultation strategy for the next leader

    John McDonnell MP has written to his fellow MPs asking them to “draw a halt to the personalised infighting” and talk of “splits and breakaways if Jeremy Corbyn gets elected”. He has proposed a wide-ranging consultation process, involving all the leadership candidates, once the next leader is elected. McDonnell who is Corbyn’s campaign agent has urged his fellow MPs to ensure that they do not given the impression that the party is internally divided. This comes after senior Labour figures, including […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour First call on Progress to recommend transfer votes to stop Corbyn

    Labour First call on Progress to recommend transfer votes to stop Corbyn

    Labour First, the group that represents the non-New Labour moderate flank of the party, has written an open letter to Progress chiefs Richard Angell and John Woodcock MP, calling on them to support tactical voting to stop Jeremy Corbyn. Earlier this month, Progress endorsed Liz Kendall in the leadership race. The letter is signed by Labour First’s chair, Keith Dibble, secretary, Luke Akehurst, and MP John Spellar. It is addressed to Woodcock, as chair of Progress, and Angell, as director, […]

    Read more →
  • Comment This leadership contest needs more vision, direction and policy

    This leadership contest needs more vision, direction and policy

    If there was a box marked “none of the above” it would probably be on course to win the first round of the Labour leadership contest. There is little in terms of content (so far) to get excited about. The process seems to be too long. And the tone is becoming increasingly acrimonious. Where’s the vision? Where’s the passion? Where are the ideas? With a month or so to go before ballot papers go out, we need our leadership candidates to give a better […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit