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More than 1 in 5 British pensioners at risk of poverty


British pensioners are among Europe's poorest, with more than two million older people at risk of poverty, official figures reveal. The UK is ranked fourth out of 27 European countries in data from the Office for National Statistics, behind only Cyprus, Bulgaria and Spain.

More than one in five (21.4 per cent) of older British people were classed as being at risk of poverty in 2010, "significantly higher" than the EU average of 15.9 per cent, the ONS said. Charities said the figures should be a "wake-up call" to the plight of millions of older people and called for a radical shake-up of the pension system.

Michelle Mitchell, of Age UK said: "The Government must continue to work proactively on ways of getting money to older people in desperate need. Independent information and advice and face-to-face communication are key to improving the take-up of benefits."

Ros Altmann, director of Saga, said: "We have had a system of state pensions that has been systematically cut over the years, trying to offload responsibility on to the private sector. It is another demonstration of why radical reform of our pension system is long overdue."

The highest poverty rates among over-65s were found in Cyprus (45.2 per cent), Bulgaria (32.2 per cent) and Spain (21.7 per cent). The lowest were in Hungary (4.1 per cent), the Netherlands (5.9 per cent) and Luxembourg (5.9 per cent). Overall, 17.1 per cent of the total UK population, or 10.7 million people, were at risk of poverty in 2010, the ONS said. This was down from 19.0 per cent in 2005, but was still higher than the EU average of 16.4 per cent.

People are defined as being at risk of poverty if their disposable income is below 60 per cent of the UK median disposable income. The at-risk rate has declined as average disposable incomes fell after the credit crunch of 2008. This means some individuals whose incomes were just below the threshold in 2008 were no longer classified as being at risk ofpoverty in 2009, even if their incomes had not changed.

Britain had the 10th highest at-risk-of-poverty rate among the 27 EU states in 2010. The highest rates were in Latvia (21.3 per cent), Romania (21.1 per cent) and Spain and Bulgaria (both 20.7 per cent). The lowest rates were found in the Czech Republic (9 per cent), the Netherlands (10.3 per cent), Slovakia (12 per cent) and Austria (12.1 per cent).