Many of us, both older and younger, are ready to put an exceptionally difficult year behind us. And while holidays won’t be quite as exotic this year, it can’t be long before the stereotype of a jet-setting Baby Boomer makes a comeback.
But this is only part of the picture. As well as the devastating health impact, the pandemic has also exposed the stark inequalities in Scottish society. While many politicians have quite rightly focused on reducing child poverty, the figures are just as shocking at the other end of the age spectrum.
For too long, pensioner poverty has been a national scandal. We often think of a fortunate generation who benefited from final salary pensions and rocketing house prices. But far too many are struggling behind closed doors, stretching out a basic state pension that is one of the lowest in Europe.
The figures speak for themselves. According to the latest Scottish Government data, around 150,000 older people live in “relative poverty”, roughly equivalent to the population of Dundee. More than 120,000 live in persistent poverty, up from eight per cent to 12 per cent in the last decade.
The pandemic has no doubt worsened this situation. Older people have already been hardest hit in terms of mental and physical health, with record levels of loneliness and isolation. But they have also felt the financial impact, with higher bills and, in many cases, less help from family and friends.
Before 2020, six in ten single pensioner households and four in ten couples struggled to pay their fuel bills. We expect this is even higher now people are spending more time at home than ever before.
It is shocking that in 2021, we have made so little progress in tackling this. As the new Scottish Parliament starts work, we are urging MSPs to focus on lifting older people out of poverty.
While some of this task lies with the UK Government, there is much that can be done at Holyrood to boost the income and reduce the bills of the poorest pensioners in Scotland
Age Scotland has already called for innovative measures to encourage greater take-up of social security, such as Pension Credit. Around four in 10 of the poorest pensioners don’t claim their entitlement, missing out on millions of pounds that could make a huge difference to their standard of living.
We’ve launched our Check In, Cash Out campaign to help older people navigate the benefits maze. Any older person can call our free helpline on 0800 12 44 222 for a benefits check and support with their claim.
More action is also needed to tackle fuel poverty, with funding for schemes to promote energy efficiency and drive down costs.
Digital and financial exclusion also negatively affect older people. Half a million are not online, meaning they often pay a premium for bills and struggle to shop around for the best deals.
Ending pensioner poverty won’t happen overnight and will require concerted efforts on all fronts.
But if we want to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow older, we need to start by ensuring everyone can enjoy a dignified standard of living in later life.
Brian Sloan, Age Scotland Chief Executive