Why are more pensioners being pushed into poverty?

There are two million pensioners living in poverty in the UK - a figure that has risen sharply over the past year.

A report published this month by the Centre for Ageing Better found there were 200,000 more poor pensioners in 2021. That means nearly one in five now fall below the official poverty threshold.

With energy bills expected to rise by as much as £700 a year on average from April, it is likely we will see many more older people, who have limited ways to increase their income, fall into financial hardship.

Teslyn Braithwaite, 83, is in debt for the first time in her life

Teslyn Braithwaite is 83-years-old and has found herself in debt for the first time in her life.

She showed me her electricity bill when I met her at a community centre in Hulme, Manchester - more than £700 in arrears and it's on her mind all the time.

Teslyn lives alone in a retirement flat. The former nurse and grandmother admits she has cut back on food and avoids putting on the heating. 

She told me: "When I went there first they were quite reasonable...but then I got a bombshell that I was over £500 in arrears but I hardly use anything, so how come? 

"I live alone. I hardly cook. I only have a refrigerator. I can't switch that off."

More than two million pensioners are living in poverty

According to data from the charity Age UK, single female pensioners are more likely to be at risk of poverty than single males or couples. And pensioners from Black and Asian communities are twice as likely to be living below the breadline than those who are white.

The charity says £2.2 billion of Pension Credit and benefits goes unclaimed by pensioners every year.

They believe that's because many older people mistakenly believe they won't qualify or are put off by the claims process.

Pauline Gaye thinks older black people can be reluctant to talk about their financial situation

I join a group of pensioners playing dominoes at the centre. Pauline Gaye, whose 70, thinks there could be cultural reasons why some older black people aren't claiming all the benefits they could be entitled to.

She told me: "I think one of the reasons the black community might be experiencing problems is because we're a private race of people, we don't like to ask for help, so we're are not going to go and get the right benefit . 

"It's a shame but true. That's why places like the African Caribbean Care Group are so important because they build trust and people know they can come here and get the information they need."

Vincent Parkes, who is 81, agrees rising costs are hitting everyone hard - especially when people rely on a state pension to survive.

Vincent told me: "Everything is going up, everywhere you go. We can't do anything about it and as far as I am concerned I don't see the Government doing anything about it either."

Dorothy Richards, who's 81, added: "You walk through the shop and you're just looking for the cheapest price and you hope that will save you a bit.

"You go for the loaf of bread costing 80p instead of the one you used to get that costs £1. You have shop around and look for bargains to survive. "

Dorothy Evans with some of the service users at the African Caribbean Care Group

Dorothy Evans is the chief Executive of African Caribbean Care Group. She has noticed a lot of the older people that come to the centre are struggling more with money and she is worried it is only going to get worse.

Dorothy said: "What we don't want to happen is for people to find themselves in a crisis situation before they reach out for help.

"In many cases a lot of the older people we are helping are already on their knees. It's really hard when you have to make a choice between,' Do I turn the lights on? Do I feed myself?'".

With energy prices set to soar by up to 50 per cent - the Government's being urged to protect consumers.

The pensioners I spoke to hope they're not going to be left out in the cold.

A Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures people are facing with the cost of living, which is why we’re providing support worth over £22 billion this financial year and next to help.

 “The latest figures show there are 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty compared to 2009/10 and we continue to work with stakeholders and others to increase awareness of Pension Credit, with the number of new claims 30% higher in 2021 compared to 2019.”