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Spend & Save

Kate Hughes: Unless you've tried living in one room to save on the gas bill, don't tell me you're hard up

Were I in my 80s, I would be livid. Not only would I be coping with being marginalised and patronised by society at large, living on a non-existent state pension, and suffering a higher rate of inflation than any other age group – all that would be bad enough. But then I would have to listen to people far younger than me with, let's face it, very little experience of real hardship, complaining that the sky is falling in because their mortgage repayments have gone up slightly.

The oldest generations are the masters at spending as little as possible. They don't think vaguely about making economies because they find a few pounds added to their gas bill or to the cost of filling up at the petrol pumps. They have to live on a tight budget because, too often, they have no other choice.

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the introduction of the state pension, following the 1946 National Insurance Act. But any thought of birthday celebrations would be frankly offensive after the long term erosion of such schemes by temporary Whitehall men. Such decisions have, in no small way, contributed to the dire situation faced by many elderly people today.

The number of pensioners living below the poverty line has risen by 300,000 in the past 12 months, according to the Office of National Statistics. That's 822 more people a day trying to live on less than half the average UK income. And those figures only partly take into account the full force of the credit crunch we have been experiencing over the past six months.

The latest research from the investment trust company Alliance Trust shows that the over-75s have seen inflation pushing up their everyday costs by 4.8 per cent over the past month, up from 4.1 per cent the previous month. That's 45 per cent higher than the official inflation rate of 3.3 per cent.

The Government would, no doubt, argue that there are generous financial assistance schemes available for pensioners, with £5bn in unclaimed benefits floating around. But this is largely thanks to complex claims procedures, and a curious lack of information to help claimants. No action has been taken to pay those benefits automatically into pensioners' bank accounts, despite HM Revenue & Customs and others having all the relevant information necessary, and repeated calls from pressure groups for this to happen.

So let's keep the latest slight tightening of our belts after a prolonged and stable period of economic prosperity in perspective, shall we? And if your financial situation really is that dire, you might want to listen to advice from 20-something journalists on switching energy suppliers and growing your own veg. But I'd go to your parents or grandparents for the hardcore stuff – like making a meal last two days and living out of one room to save on the gas bill.

While you're at it, do their grocery shopping for them, and, for God's sake, hand over your own card at the till. You can afford it.