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Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Do the elderly get a raw deal?

The number of pensioners living below the breadline in the UK increased by 100,000 last year, according to government figures.

Ministers say the statistics are out-of-date and fail to take into account recent initiatives, such as the Minimum Income Guarantee for the poorest pensioners.

But the opposition Conservative Party dismiss these initiatives as "gimmicks". They argue instead for a substantial increase in the basic state pension, a view echoed by the charity Age Concern.

Are these latest figures a true reflection of the plight of the UK's elderly? Do you think we take enough care of the older generation? How could things be improved? This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

Personally I am disgusted that I shall be compelled to support those who have ceased to contribute to society. Gordon Brown needs to take purposeful steps to reduce the real value of the weekly pension. This will deter, the baby boom generation from being the source of an unnecessary expense for future generations. It is my firm belief that State pensions today are a redundant concept the sooner everyone realises this the better.
Andrew Cowling, UK


We cannot burden future generations with the weight of a pension system that requires ever increasing children to support the elderly

Charles, England
The connection between the state and pensions needs to be broken. We cannot burden future generations with the weight of a pension system that requires ever increasing children to support the elderly.
Pensioners should be aided and supported but the basic pension should remain unchanged. Income support or a similar measure should be used to maintain a decent and adequate level of income. Your future is your concern and people should be planning for the day they retire not leaving it to the whim of a politician.
Charles, England

I must disagree with Brian from Canada. Please Britain, do not emulate Canada in their RRSP policy. Several years ago, Canadians were allowed to claim a 50% tax break on money invested in such funds, now it is only 17%.
The real catch comes when one attempts to withdraw money from the RRSP, at that point the saved funds are fully taxed at "normal" Canadian rates, (that is unless you are living abroad, in which case the Government grabs half of the savings in taxes!) But I still think that owing to people living longer and inflation, it has been difficult for older people to adequately prepare for their future.
Taxes should only be levied during ones working/earning life and free services should be means tested to ensure that services are reaching the people who need them most. Dignity, respect and pride are important.
Patricia van der Veer, A Brit in Canada

In short, YES. I have five brothers and we all contribute in our own way, financially and otherwise, to the welfare of our parents. If this help was not available they would be better off dead! It really is that simple.
Lee Wardle, UK

If pensions rose to 30 grand a year tax free they'd still find something to grumble about.
Neil, England


A shocking number of old people die during the winter as they can't afford the heating bill

Sarah, U.A.E.
I can't understand why this government will spend millions on propping up the Euro, millions on funding refugees, millions on the Dome and decided to give a 75 pence increase to old people. Why does the government take so little care of its own?
A shocking number of old people die during the winter as they can't afford the heating bills. I think British people are very uncomfortable with how old people are being treated. We all pay very high tax in this country and we would prefer it to go to worthy causes not New Labour's ideological ones
Sarah, Brit ex-pat in the U.A.E.

The state pension is a disgrace. It should be linked to earnings. The point about millionaires benefiting from this is a complete red herring, as the number of millionaires and super rich is too small to affect the cost significantly, particularly as the pension is taxable.
Andrew Levens, UK

If we gave our old people a fraction of the charitable concern that we give to children and animals then we wouldn't be asking this question nearly as often as we do. Animals are cute, children are cute but the elderly? No! They represent an image our ourselves which we would rather forget. They deserve as much attention and concern if not more!!
Derek, UK

Of all the elderly most affected by this government, it is men over 60. They still do not get the state pension at the same age as women. You should be ashamed New Labour.
Bo Newcombe, England

Anything involving governments taking "your" money (tax, NI, SS, Nat. Health, 'stamp' or whatever zany name they give it) and spending it "their" way will never benefit "you"! Government should enforce investment in a registered pension- or savings-scheme but "you" choose the scheme and the more you put in the more you (not other people chosen by the government) get out.
Nigel Rees, Briton in USA


The message that has to go out to everyone is that if you do not plan properly for your pension yourself, you will be on welfare come retirement

Steve Dooley, England
The state pension is just another form of welfare now. About the only thing I agree with Gordon Brown on is that there is no point in universal increases in the state pension, as this would cost us taxpayers even more, and go to the non-poor pensioners who have their own savings, occupational pensions, etc. Setting a level (via the minimum income guarantee) that no pensioner should fall below makes sense.
The message that has to go out to everyone is that if you do not plan properly for your pension yourself, you will be on welfare come retirement. And remember, the UK has more pension investments than the rest of the EU countries put together, so our problems are going to as nothing compared to theirs.
Steve Dooley, England

With more older people in the world and with older people being more likely to vote than any other proportion of society, I think that their voice will be increasingly heard by politicians.
MWF, UK

Under Labour the pensioners have received numerous benefits i.e. 150 EVERY WINTER, free Eye tests, minimum income guarantee, free tv licences for older pensioners and I am sure many more to come, yes the pension increase was not high but neither is inflation! If as the polls suggest pensioners vote Tory then wave goodbye to ANY extras just a few quid per week, not to much, and that's it! Don't ask for any more because as they proved for 18 long years they do not care about pensioners at all.
Shaun lee, England

I work as a care assistant, and wish I could do more for the elderly. We do not take care of our own. The state pension should be more in line with inflation, so they could all have a decent standard of living.
Deborah, Britain


We should also give more money help to the elderly of the Third World who do not have pensions in most cases

Anthony, UK
Thousands of elderly die each year of the cold in London etc. and more live in poverty, so we should increase pensions to 100 per week, paid for by higher income tax for the higher-paid and taxes on luxury good like cars, champagne, yachts etc. We should also give more money help to the elderly of the Third World who do not have pensions in most cases.
Anthony, UK

Why do innocent old folk have their bank accounts raided by the government to pay for care; but guilty prisoners stay rent free?
JF Davies, England

As with any group within society, there are rich pensioners and poor pensioners. Linking pensions to earnings does not recognise this fact and people who call for its reinstatement forget this. The important thing, in a decent society, is to ensure that the poorest pensioner get a pension they can live on. That means giving them a minimum income guarantee and increasing that amount over time, not linking it to earnings.
Riad Mannan, UK


If a private pension scheme behaved in the same way as the Government, they would find themselves in court on a charge of fraud

Tony Pace, England
The retired have compulsorily paid into the state pension scheme for the whole of their working life and are entitled to a pension they can live on regardless of other savings they may have. If a private pension scheme behaved in the same way as the Government, Labour or Conservative, they would find themselves in court on a charge of fraud.
Tony Pace, England

I visited the UK last year for a month, lived quite frugally yet still went through thousands of pounds. If it's tough for tourists then it must be horrendous for the elderly on state or fixed incomes.
Tom, Australia

To the person who believes elderly people have got it made. What about the couple who spend twenty five years paying off a mortgage so they finally own the property they have been living in. They discover that one of them has cancer so they need to go into hospital. The other is not able to look after themselves so will have to go into a home. The Government solution is that they must sell the house to pay for their illnesses. Yes, I would say they get a bad deal.
Mandi, England

Does this mean I stop saving for my retirement (never mind the kid's college fees) to pay more tax supposedly to keep the previous generation going? With 1 billion lost in a week of fuel protests, it looks like I'll be living on veg. stew, again, in twenty years' time.
Clive Mitchell, UK

Canada has one of the best pension saving systems in the world where one is allowed to put 18% of one's earnings into a Registered Retirement Fund and get a tax reduction on each year's earnings. The money can be invested in Mutual Funds and Guaranteed Investment Certificates and only if one takes the money out of the fund, it then gets taxed usually at a lower rate. The one good thing about this type of system is that it forces people to invest every year or otherwise they pay more income taxes on their yearly income. On top of this RRSP fund everyone pays on their earnings into the Canada Pension Plan which is compulsory on their weekly paycheque. At the time of retirement if one has saved and invested for their retirement they have a good investment to retire on. Maybe this is what Britain should be doing too to help people save for their retirement too.
Brian Stichbury, Canada


I get the impression that people would rather burn petrol than keep the old folks warm

Tom Rees, UK
The broad picture of pensioner poverty seems to be true. Unfortunately, the only way to raise the income of people receiving state pensions is to raise taxes - but I get the impression that people would rather burn petrol than keep the old folks warm.
Tom Rees, UK

The unstoppable demographic changes our society is facing (greater ratio of retirement-aged non-taxpaying people) means it is almost a certainty that the pensioners of today are relatively better off than the pensioners of tomorrow will be. In my view, things can only be improved in the long term for older people by making retirement funding compulsory.
Richard N, UK

I work with the elderly every day in a professional capacity and in my mind there is no doubt whatsoever that they have a raw deal in this country. Unless they have private savings or investments then pensioners live on the breadline. In working class areas such as the one I work in, the elderly have never been able to save and therefore are hit hard. An average weekly pension of between 60- 70 does not go far. Once you take the rent of maybe 40 per week away, this leaves a meagre 20-30 for everyday living including, food, water, heating, TV licence. It does not take a mathematical genius to work out that they live on the bread line.
Campbell, UK

It would help if they didn't keep on changing the rules. I paid into Married Women's Reduced Rate expecting to be able to pay a full pension from age 50 onwards. Then they moved the goalposts and it was taken all over my working life. Having worked, but only part time for a few hours, I needed every penny I could earn and therefore stayed on the reduced rate.
Joan Clark, England


The elderly are ignored and at best tolerated

Albert, UK
Are these latest figures a true reflection of the plight of the UK's elderly? Yes, close enough.
Do you think we take enough care of the older generation? No. The elderly are ignored and at best tolerated.
How could things be improved? Restore the link between earnings and pensions for a kick off and then pay for it with a new 60% tax band for the disgustingly wealthy - which from where I'm sitting starts at about 100k pa.
Albert, UK

The Conservative Party dismisses the Minimum Income Guarantee as a gimmick and say that there should be an increase in the state pension. I couldn't agree more but I would ask them why they failed to do this during their 18 years in power?
Rod Maxwell, Scotland

Unfortunately, those of us in the baby-boomer generation have been brought up, in the UK anyway, to believe that the state will take care of us when we're old. Some of us with more exposure to the financial realities of the "real world" have learnt better.
In the meantime, a growing number of folk in the UK are going to be in for a rude shock as they approach retirement age. As government created this mess, especially during the nutty socialist years, they have an especial responsibility to help clean it up. Bad luck generation "X", who will be paying for it!
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK


Never heard of Grey Power - I'd say they are some of the country's biggest spenders

Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK
Never heard of Grey Power? The elderly I know are certainly not poor. Indeed I'd say they are some of the country's biggest spenders - they've inherited wealth (houses) from their parents, they've got income from investments and private pensions, they've no longer got their kids to support.
The big questions they seem to ask themselves are "Florida or Bermuda for our second holiday this year", or "should the new car be a Merc or a Jaguar"?
Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK

We ought to be the most highly considered having helped all the younger generation to reach where they are today. One message to all of you - you will be old one day and feel exactly the same of the behaviour of generations managing your life.
June Daniels, UK


The real value of their benefits is less than they would have got if they'd just stuck that money in a bank - or even a sock under the mattress!

Sean Stack, France
The elderly have been comprehensively conned by the Welfare State. Retirees have paid their taxes for around forty years, in the reasonable expectation that those funds would be properly administered against their eventual need. Instead, they now find that the real value of their benefits is less than they would have got if they'd just stuck that money in a bank - or even a sock under the mattress!
The problem, of course, is that the government doesn't invest that money, as we would do if we had the chance. It just spends it, and hopes to get more from a fresh generation of suckers when the bill comes due. The technical term for this is 'fraud'. This is why in a period of unparalleled economic growth and prosperity for the country as a whole, our pensioners are poorer than ever.
Sean Stack, France

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See also:

20 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Lib Dem pension revolt fails
02 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Call for big pension rises
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