Calls to tackle Norfolk pensioner poverty

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Thousands of Norfolk's pensioners are being plunged into poverty as they struggle to cope with increasing levels of debt.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Thousands of Norfolk pensioners are being plunged into poverty as they struggle to cope with increasing levels of debt.

New figures reveal that 26,400 people in Norfolk over the age of 60 are now officially classed as "income deprived".

The figure accounts for 12.9pc of all over-60s in the county - with Norwich the worst affected area, with 4,700 (18.5pc) living in poverty.

Norfolk County Council's scrutiny committee has commissioned a special report into the issue, which will be considered tomorrow.

Committee chairman Irene Macdonald said: "Norfolk has an increasing number of older people, and in the 21st century it is simply not acceptable that a significant number are living in poverty.

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"It is something everyone, including the county council, needs to address and which the scrutiny committee is keen to examine."

The county council is developing a string of measures to try to tackle the problem by focusing on three main areas - income poverty, debt and fuel poverty.

Last year the EDP revealed County Hall was creating joint teams of staff with the Department of Work and Pensions to make sure older people claim all of the benefit they are entitled to.

Andy Cobb, who manages the Norwich Citizens Advice Bureau's Debtline, said: "We are definitely seeing more elderly people. We get people in their 80s who are crippled with debt.

"That might seem a surprise because if you are retired and you want to borrow money you might think banks would be cautious to lend it. But they are lending ludicrous amounts and then complaining when people cannot pay it back.

"The cost of fuel and council tax keeps going up and if people are already in debt they can find themselves in a lot of trouble.

"For some of them the best thing might be for them to declare bankruptcy, but for that generation there is still a stigma attached to that."

One problem is that older people are not claiming their full benefits, such as attendance allowance and disability living allowance.

A typical example is a man in his late 70s whose benefits were increased from his £84.25 state retirement pension to £202.45 after the council's joint visitor team helped him apply for other benefits he was entitled to.

Rex Humphrey, from Age Concern Norfolk, will address the county council meeting to give his views about the current situation and the number of older people living in poverty in the county.

"We have to make sure that older people can lead full and active lives but you need an adequate income to do that," he said. "Because of their very nature pensioners find themselves on fixed incomes, and those who have not built up a personal pension and are reliant on state benefits can find themselves struggling with the cost of living, fuel bills and the cost of care.

"Benefit take-up is vital because there is money which is not being claimed which could help these people. We are working closely with the councils to ensure there is a full take-up of benefits."