Elderly in poverty rises by 100,000

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The Independent Online

The number of pensioners living in poverty has risen by almost 100,000 since Labour came to power, according to government figures.

The number of pensioners living in poverty has risen by almost 100,000 since Labour came to power, according to government figures.

The revelation comes as a London University report says that more than 26,000 elderly people die from the cold in London each year - more than Finland, which is twice as cold.

The poverty statistics will increase the pressure on the Government to announce new measures to help Britain's pensioners and will fuel a revolt by Labour activists and trade unions at the party's annual conference in Brighton next week.

The annual "poverty audit", to be published by the Department of Social Security tomorrow, will show that the number of pensioners living in poverty has risen by 98,000 since the 1997 general election.

In the year before the election, 22 per cent of pensioners were in households with below half the average national income before their housing costs were included.

The new figures will show that the figure rose by one per cent during Labour's first year in office, and remained steady in the 12 months after that despite the introduction of measures to help pensioners.

This week's report will admit that pensioners, especially older women, are still at disproportionate risk of falling into the bottom half of the income distribution scale. They also suffer social exclusion through poor housing, poor health and lack of independence and access to public services.

The report will be seized on by trade unions and Labour activists who are threatening to inflict an embarrassing defeat on the party leadership at the conference in Brighton. They are demanding that the basic state pension is raised in line with earnings rather than prices as at present.

Ministers hope to stave off a defeat by offering last-minute concessions but they are likely to stop short of the campaigners' demands.

Alistair Darling, the Social Security Secretary, is drawing up plans for a new tax credit aimed at helping elderly people who live on modest occupational pensions and who do not qualify for state benefits at present.

Ministers will argue that the poverty figures are already out of date, saying they do not yet take full account of the minimum income guarantee for pensioners in 1999, which currently tops up their income to £78.45 a week.

They will also say that the plight of pensioners will also be improved by the decision to increase their winter fuel payments to £150 a year and plans to bring in free television licences for the over 75s.

The poverty audit is expected to show that 30,000 more people die in winter in Britain than would be expected given the average death rates during the rest of the year. Most of the 30,000 victims are aged 60 or over.

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