The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
Although the official rate of inflation is 3.8%, inflation affects the poor more than the rich. In the last year the cost of essentials has increased enormously. Food has risen by 15.5%, petrol by 16% and the cost of gas and electricity has soared. Poor people spend a greater proportion of their incomes on essentials such as food, light and fuel.
Rising costs can plunge people on fixed incomes into poverty.
The latest research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that the number of impoverished people in the UK rose by 300,000 in 2006–2007, with the rise concentrated among pensioners. At
present 2.8 million UK pensioners are living in poverty. This is a shameful statistic.
Over 100 years ago George Bernard Shaw wrote: ‘The greatest of our evils and the worst of our crimes is poverty. Our first duty, to which every other consideration should be sacrificed, is not to be poor.’
Poverty affects the ability to eat, keep warm and remain healthy. It also affects the ability to participate in society and maintain human dignity and well-being. The government guarantees pensioners a minimum income – single pensioners are entitled to £124 a week and couples £189 a week. However, if their state pensions fall below these figures, they have to apply for the pension credit needed to top them up.
If government were to pay pensioners this credit automatically, 2.3 million people would be lifted out of poverty at a stroke. However, the state pension is not generous. Research carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation indicates that it is not sufficient to meet the costs of a reasonable lifestyle and many older people receiving their full pension still struggle to make ends meet.
Our prime minister is a clever man. As chancellor he developed a system of taxes and benefits among the most complex in the world.
But complexity can be confusing for vulnerable older people. Paying pension credit automatically is simple. It could make a huge difference to people struggling to pay council tax, fuel and food bills. It could make the difference between health and sickness, or even life and death.
Linda Nazarko is a nurse consultant at Ealing PCT
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