Retiring in the UK is a bleak prospect for many. Whilst fuel poverty blights and sometimes takes the lives of among the most vulnerable in society, a protected budget of £11 billion is committed to aiding poverty abroad. In the UK, the government’s charity does not begin at home.
It is no secret that the UK’s population is taking longer to shuffle off its mortal coil. A recent report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has indicated that Britain’s ageing population is growing at its fastest rate since the 19th century and is projected to hit 70 million by 2027, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The current 62 million UK population is rising at 0.8% a year and may increase by 4.9 million to 67.2 million by 2020 and to 73 million by 2035. The ONS also suggests that the oldest age groups are the fastest growing and the number of people over the age of 85 is expected to more than double from 1.4 million now to 3.5 million within 25 years. Centenarians are set to rise more from 13,000 in 2010 to 110,000 in 2035, with the median age rising from 39.7 years in 2010 to 39.9 in 2020 and to 42.2 by 2035 . Of course, this does not include mass uncontrolled immigration into the UK’s porous – rather – non-existent border.
Yet, in the present day, there is good reason to fear old age. Hardly a week seems to pass without reports of the appalling physical and psychological abuses dispensed by manipulative sadistic and criminal employees at ‘care’ homes. Such abuses include:
- Not being given adequate support to eat or drink, in particular those with dementia
- Home helps not carrying out vital tasks such as washing and dressing because of lack of time;
- Financial abuse, such as money being systematically stolen;
- Talking over older people (sometimes on mobile phones) or patronising them;
- Physical abuse, such as rough handling or unnecessary force. 
Even those not occupying care homes face difficult times, especially during the winter months. In 2007-09, around 35% of single pensioners were living in fuel poverty (defined as when someone needs to spend 10 per cent or more on heating their home) with many cutting back on food to meet their energy bills; around 2 million elderly people are so desperately cold that they go to bed when they are not tired or else move into a single room, in an attempt to keep their energy bills down.
The UK government has every reason to feel embarrassed at this shameful state of affairs, especially since the ‘Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000’ is meant to eliminate fuel poverty by 2016 . Worse still, a number of the UK’s main energy suppliers have decided Christmas will arrive early for them this year:
- EDF announced they will raise prices for domestic gas and electricity by 10.8%, meaning its typical dual-fuel bill for a direct debit customer will rise by £122 to £1,251 a year.
- SSE, which trades as Southern Electric, Swalec and Scottish Hydro, increased its tariffs by 9% on October 15, the same day as Scottish Power announced plans to hike bills by an average 7% from December 3.
- British Gas will impose an average increase of 6% affecting 8.5 million customers from November 16, with Npower planning an average rise of 8.8% for gas and 9.1% for electricity from November 26.
The government previously estimated that the total number of deaths relating to fuel poverty in the UK at 2,700 a year, but according to Prof. Christine Liddell (University of Ulster), some 7,800 people die during winter because they cannot afford to heat their homes properly. This figure suggests that there are 65 such deaths a day .
In the mean time, the government has responded by suggesting consumers ‘Switch utility providers and use price comparison sites’ – hardly a possibility for the computer illiterate pensioners who make up those most in need.
At the present time the government has budgeted £7.3bn for elderly social care in 2012, whilst the budget for overseas aid in 2013 is projected to be £11bn, ring-fenced by the philanthropic Mr Cameron. Both sums are large, but why should Mr Cameron be prepared to spend more on foreign aid than combating poverty within the UK’s borders? It is not a question of one life being more important than another, it is about dutifully serving his fellow countrymen, or (if one wishes to put it clinically) assisting British taxpayers who have paid money to the state all their lives, trusting that when they need assistance in turn, their taxes may well help them.
It is not even remotely cynical to suggest that committing £11bn in foreign aid is much more glamorous to career politicians like Mr Cameron than it is committing the same amount to help the vulnerable at home.
Domestically, Mr Cameron and his cross-party kin preside over a flat-lining economy, a crumbling society, a decrepit rule of law, an increasingly undemocratic politics and a talent for populist policy (which never comes to fruition either).
On the international stage, however, Mr Cameron has a chance to radiate statesmanship and policy. Whether it is preaching democracy in other countries, demanding the cessation of conflict, insisting that important things are attended to, or patronising third world countries with the British taxpayer’s money, there is a chance to cast himself in the role of a world leader.
It is all sound and fury, signifying nothing, but what else might one expect from the likes of Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg, who have only ever seen their parliamentary careers as an apprenticeship to their entrance on the world stage. Whilst their future (like their past) will be comfortable and they will never know what it is to endure, elderly men and women will have to suffer all manner of indignities and hardships because they are less efficient political capital.
© thepanopticonblog, 2012
- 1. Alan Travis. ‘UK population to reach 70m by 2027.’ The Guardian. Wednesday 26 October 2011.
- 2. Daniel Martin, ‘Cruelty of the carers: Damning report into home help for the elderly finds neglect so appalling some wanted to die.’ Daily Mail. 23 November 2011
- 3. Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000
- 4. Simon Read. ‘Fuel poverty deaths three times higher than government estimates.’ The Independent. 28 February 2012.