Rising living costs are pushing hundreds of Sheffield’s pensioners towards, and beyond the poverty line. But Rachael Clegg spoke to one Sheffield pensioner who is leading the fightback.
IT’S SEPTEMBER and pensioner Jacqui Milner is already worrying about how she’ll pay her winter gas bill.
But Jacqui’s not on the poverty line - she’s got a nice home, and she lives with her husband.
She’s like thousands of pensioners across Sheffield who have worked hard all their lives, but even so are living off meagre pensions and struggling to make ends meet.
“My pension is £77.30 a week,” she says. “I worked part-time when I was bringing up my children so I never earned enough to pay a National Insurance stamp.”
Jacqui and her husband manage, just. But, unfortunately for them, that means they are just above the level that would enable them to get any further benefits, such as help with their dental care and eye care.
“I have cataracts so I need new glasses every year,” she says. “That’s a couple of hundred pounds.
“And food is so expensive now. It’s not always that it’s going up in price but that there is less of it in the packaging! They must think we are completely stupid.”
There are unexpected costs, too.
“I dread it when I go to the dentist or if we need a new heating system installing,” she says.
Britain has the third lowest pension in Europe, and the basic pension of £107.45 a week puts Britain behind even less developed countries such as Lithuania.
Jacqui said: “Our Government has no concept of how ordinary people live, having to go into shops to look for food that has been reduced, waiting for the sales to buy your clothes.
“In winter you have to think before you turn on the heating. I just hope we don’t have another bad winter this year, like we did the year before last.”
But Jacqui isn’t just sitting at home worrying. She is the secretary for the Sheffield Pensioners’ Action Group, SPAG, which has its base at Castle Market in the city centre.
This week the group, alongside other pensioners, will be protesting at Sheffield City Hall against means-tested pensions and the level of the state pension.
“We want as many people there as possible,” says Jacqui. “We want banners!”
The event, on Saturday, precedes the annual TUC demonstration in London in October this year, which the National Pensioners’ Convention is urging its 1,000 affiliated groups to attend.
In total, that adds up to around 1.5 million members - still fewer than the number of pensioners struggling on the poverty line in the UK.
A spokeswoman for Age Concern said: “Older people at the moment are being hit by the rise in living costs and this is a huge concern for many older people throughout the UK.
“At the moment there are 1.7 million pensioners on the poverty line and 1.1 million pensioners just above it.”
The statistics are shocking, but no surprise to Jacqui.
“Thank God I have my bus pass,” she says. “It’s my lifeline. If it wasn’t for that many pensioners wouldn’t be able to get out because the cost of running a car is so expensive. All pensioners dread the idea of the free bus pass being withdrawn.”
According to experts, the money is there - it’s just pensioners aren’t getting it. Age UK estimates there is £5.5bn worth of unclaimed benefits in the UK.
“A lot of pensioners feel there is a stigma when it comes to claiming benefits,” said the organisation’s spokeswoman.
“The current state pension system is also very complicated.”
However, the Government has published a White Paper in which it proposes the pension system is simplified.
“This is something that Age UK welcomes,” she said. “The proposal is that the state pension is a flat rate.”
But what Age UK is arguing for is financial support now.
“Urgent support is needed as pensioner poverty is extremely high and we are calling on government to see how pensioners can be helped.”
Yet, while there is a pressing need to address the financial hardship today’s pensioners face, Jacqui worries about pensions for future generations.
“Times are tough for young people now too,” she said. “Young families don’t have any money to save after they’ve paid their bills, and staying at home with the children and working part-time isn’t an option for many mothers anymore because mortgages require both parents working full time.
I dread to think what will be there for them when they get old.”
Sheffield Pensioners’ Action Group, SPAG, will be marching from Castle Market at 11am on Saturday and arriving at Sheffield City Hall at 1pm for a rally. Supporters are welcome to join them.
The state pension is made up of two parts - the basic state pension and the additional state pension. The type of pension received depends on qualifying factors, such as the number of years’ National Insurance paid.
In 2012/13 a single person can receive up to £107.45 a week, depending on NI contributions.
Around 1.7m pensioners are living below the poverty line, and 1.1m only just above it.
Age UK is running a campaign called ‘More Money in Your Pocket’, to raise awareness among pensioners of the money they can claim.
Visit www.ageuk.org.uk or call the Sheffield office on 0114 250 2850.