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.”

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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!