Cameron looks to pensioners for return to Downing Street

David Cameron
David Cameron

An election is coming up and we oldies are being wooed like never before.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced last week he was going to pour money into dementia research and ensure that sufferers are diagnosed within six weeks. Britain he declared will become “the best country in the world to grow old in’’.

Sandra Chapman

Sandra Chapman

Maybe he is trying to sweeten the pill after the worrying news that the cost of being a pensioner rose by £800 in the last year, an increase of eight per cent on the previous year according to an analysis of official figures collected by the Office for National Statistics.

But yet another set of statistics from the Institute for Fiscal Studies has been interpreted by economist Andrew Hood (writing in the Daily Telegraph) as indicating that pensioner poverty no longer exists these days. In fact he goes on to say that after accounting for housing costs, the median (middle) income of pensioners is actually higher than that of non-pensioners. Back in 1992 it was 20 per cent behind.

Perhaps he’s taking into account the income of former public sector workers who enjoy inflation-proofed pensions on top of their state pensions, with many of them enjoying massive pay-offs for taking early redundancy. He explains the catch-up as being due to growing private pension entitlements and increases in state support.

Private sector employees still in work will be less financially endowed in future now that most employers have pulled out of paying pensions as a proportion of final salary instead paying the minimum they can get away with – averaging around a mere five per cent. So his current assessment is flawed.

Thanks to David Cameron’s coalition government the state pension has been protected for the last five years through the ‘triple lock’ rising by 2.5pc a year even if inflation is lower. This has helped but then he was starting from a low figure when the state pension was less than £100 a week.

For those without additional private pensions it is still a relatively low sum rising to £115.95 (maximum rate) from April 6, this year leaving many relying on state top-ups. The oil crisis has led to lower prices in the shops which will help pensioners but this can only be viewed as a temporary state.

Oil prices will rise and that will mean a return to cost of living increases.

If the Conservatives win the May election David Cameron has promised to keep this triple lock which will cost an estimated £2bn a year by the end of the next Parliament, and the additional benefits of free public travel, the winter fuel allowance and TV licences for the over 75’s. Labour want these benefits means tested.

In Northern Ireland however, thanks to an acrimonious Assembly which has somehow managed to engineer different levels of benefits (excluding the state pension which is not a benefit) here compared to the rest of the UK, the possibility of pensioners losing free travel and the winter fuel allowance is high given that in order to get the recent Welfare Reform Bill through the Assembly, it is now faced with having to fork out upwards of £100 million a year from the Stormont current account to help out those who will lose some of their benefits.

There is the suggestion they may have to consider introducing water charges to help make ends meet. Not wishing to be pessimistic I can see hard times ahead for pensioners. No other group, after all, is faced with having to fork out tens of thousands a year for their care in later life and even worse, none of this generation of pensioners was prepared for that. Poverty for pensioners a myth? Hardly.