Eat or Heat?

Yesterday, the Royal British Legion and Age Concern launched the Return to Rationing Campaign. It is aimed to highlight poverty among older people and the name of the campaign itself, evokes a Britain during World War 2 and its immediate aftermath that lingers in the consciousness of the nation.

Stark choices are being made by pensioners on limited, fixed incomes as the prices of food and fuel are rising.

Director General of The Royal British Legion, Chris Simpkins, says:
“We all thought rationing was history. But we were wrong. Even the Chancellor says we’re facing the worst economic climate in 60 years and this has a crushing impact on older people. The Government must give them the help they deserve – making it easier for them to access their entitlements and giving them a level of income to ensure their basic needs are met.”


During the period of rationing, choices were made for you. Supply was limited. Today, those choices are down to individuals. What do you prioritise? Some ham and cheese to make sandwiches rather than jam – which will last longer. Turning down the heating in the winter or cutting an hour or two here and there. Cigarettes. Weekly trips to the local Bingo hall.

Although I’d say I am used to seeing poverty now, I find it hard sometimes, to allay some of the situations I am drawn into in a work environment with my own life. I can make more choices and live more comfortably. My choices are very much restricted to luxuries and leisure interests.

The ‘Return to Rationing’ Campaign highlights three campaigning issues

The Legion is calling on the Government to:

  • Provide a package of Council Tax Benefit improvements;
  • Make war pensioners exempt from Disabled Facility Grant (DFG) means testing; and
  • Double the personal expense allowance for care home residents
  • All areas that immediate differences can be made in by some adjustments to government policy.

While nosing around for some information on poverty in general in the population, I came across The Poverty Site, which breaks down poverty according to age, gender, disability, geography (within the European Union) and with just about every variable possible – seriously, you could spend hours on that site just clicking around – I know because I did.
Among the vast wealth of interesting information there, was the nugget that 40% of  pensioner households are not claiming the benefits that they are entitled to

  • Around two-fifths of pensioner households entitled to Council Tax Benefit and Pension Credit are not claiming them.  These are much higher proportions than a decade ago.
  • Of the estimated £4 billion of unclaimed income-related benefits to which pensioners were entitled in 2006/07, Pensioner Credit accounted for half while Council Tax Benefit accounted for a third.
  • The proportion of pensioner households entitled to, but not claiming, Pension Credit is much higher for owner-occupiers than for those in other tenures.
  • The proportion of pensioner households entitled to, but not claiming, Pension Credit is somewhat higher for pensioner couples than for single pensioners.

I always ask about benefits when I visit – just a basic check. And on my very very basic straw poll knowledge, over half of the households I visit are not getting money which they would be entitled to. I can usually point people in the right direction but we work directly with a teeny minority of people.
I think campaigns like the Return to Rationing one are helpful to focus the mind more on some of the issues that exist. Maybe a widespread government led campaign about benefit entitlement would be useful too. The money may be there but just increasingly difficult to access through the bureaucratic hoops that need to be jumped through.
Much more to be said on poverty, no doubt, but for now, I’m back to the Poverty Site to click around!

10 thoughts on “Eat or Heat?

  1. Those benefit forms confuse the hell out of me, I can’t imagine how older folk feel when confronted with them, even if they do still have all their faculties. There is also more of a ‘well I don’t want to be a bother’ ethos among the elderly that means they don’t push for what they are entitled to. It’s sad.

  2. I totally understand that. It’s the same with where I live. There are so many programs, and so much paper work, and so many different ways to be eligible for things. And most frustrating, is the fact that in order to receive most of them, you have to have an address, which most of my clients don’t.

  3. The problem of claiming is, like so many issues with the elderly, over determined. Firstly they have to know they are entitled, secondly they have to be able or willing to fill the forms in and thirdly they have to overcome the pride which makes them believe they are getting a handout. It is, in my experience, a hell of a job to persuade people that they have contributed far more in National Insurance to the system than they will ever get out and that they are entitled to any benefits they can get. Furthermore, I have found that a massive proportion of applicants are turned down for Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance on the first go. The forms are demoralising – all “tell us what you cant do and how useless you are” so people tend to minimise their problems rather than filling it in as they are on their worst day. Then getting them to reapply is really hard because they feel like they are begging.
    I have always thought residential care allowances are iniquitous – I know the State contributes but leaving someone in a position where buying toiletries is practically beyond their reach let alone new clothes or Christmas presents smacks of the work house to me.
    Older people cannot withdraw their labour and are all too often the hidden poor. Great issue, thank you for raising it.

  4. Informative post. i think older people are much less likely to ask for things they are entitled to because they have a certain pride that we state weaned baby boomers don’t posses – our ethos is much more “we have paid into it therefore we will claim it”

  5. Thanks for the comments. The forms are incredibly non-user friendly, as you know. It is also, as Caroline says, about phrasing things in a negative way and trying to work out about how things are at their worst. It is not very helpful in a therapeutic role, particularly in mental health services, to try and emphasise the negative continually.
    Still Dreaming is right too about the difficulty of those without homes or permanent residences. Bureaucracy becomes ever more binding.
    And thanks Silva. There is definitely a difference in attitude across the generations.

  6. it was oneof the first things i realized about the elderly…the pride and hesitancy to take from the system. it was such a foreign notion to me it took awhile for me to grasp.

  7. I find it appalling that the government make the forms so complicated that people get genuinely confused and don’t bother to complete them. This is not disimilar to the way some insurance firms operate and the intention is to dissuade people from claiming, by wearing them out.

    I find it hard to believe that the government cannot make the forms simpler, particularly for the elderly, unless, the cynic in me believes, the government have ‘calculated’ the real cost by assuming that a certain percentage will not claim. Shame on them.

  8. It’s true, Voter and I can understand the cynicism to a point. I find the flouted comments about ‘benefits cheats’ incredibly disingenuous when there are FAR more people not claiming that which they are entitled to.

  9. This is a great post and really informative. I agree that not only are the claim forms for DLA etc needlessly complicated, but their questioning demeaning, humiliating, and intrusive. It is unacceptable. I’m saddened to find older people are not claiming what is rightfully theirs.

    thanks again for the post

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