Britain’s Great Pension Crisis: State pensioners reveal struggle to pay for vital heating

BRITAIN’S GREAT PENSION CRISIS is a two-part series which airs this week, beginning on Channel 5 tonight. During the episode, a couple claiming the state pension reveal the financial challenge they’ve faced after not being able to save during their working life.

 age is rising, meaning many people may be left wondering whether they need to be saving more for their retirement. While many people will have other forms of income such as a private , worryingly, research from has suggested that more than 2.2 million British pensioners (11 percent of over 65s) think they are in the worst financial position that they have ever been in. And, the survey found that seven percent of over 65s said a fear of bills has led them to avoid opening mail or checking their statements.
Tonight, the nation’s retirement landscape is in the spotlight, during a special two-part investigative series, titled Britain’s Great Pension Crisis, on Channel 5.

Presenting the programme, Michael Buerk addresses how lower income families, including many of the UK’s 12million pensioners, have struggled to afford essential costs since the Financial Crash.

He asks: “So, what happens when your pension isn’t enough to cover the very basics, such as heating or food? Or you haven’t been able to save during your working life?”

David and Frances Bushnell gave an insight into their retirement, and their struggle to pay for essential costs.

The couple, from Essex, had shared the hope in moving to Norfolk one day.

They went on to retire to a park home estate for the over 50s in East Anglia.

The pair only have the combined state pension of just under £14,000 per year to live on.

“You could have taken out a pension privately if you were earning the money, but [I] wasn’t earning enough to pay what would have been worth a decent pension at the time,” says David.

David, 73, suffers from Emphysema, and has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Frances, 75, has also been diagnosed with a different health condition, and doctors have given them both specific advice about living with their lung conditions.

“One of the most important things is keeping warm,” Frances explains. “Not only keeping bodily warm, but keeping the air warm because cold air, when you’ve got breathing conditions, is deadly.”

In the first winter after David’s diagnosis, the couple’s heating bills doubled.

In the episode, Frances says: “The bill came and it was very high and we were quite a way behind."

With only the state pension to fall back on, the couple struggled to pay the higher energy bills.

“It can be frightening because you’re torn between making sure you’re alright and keeping everywhere warm so that you’re well, and sort of, well [thinking] ‘to hell with what it costs’ and worrying about it later.

“Or, being very careful so that you don’t incur all those costs and then you’re going to be ill. So you don’t have a lot of choice.”

Speaking to, Frances explains: "When you retire, your income drops - when you’ve only got the state pension it drops by a great deal.

"Things weren’t too bad to start with, and then they started increasing all the fuel all the time."

She adds: "It's been a real worry to us every year because we pay monthly, but it never quite covers it. So there's always a shortfall to pay at the end of the year."

Talking about the impact during the programme, she continues: “It just makes retirement very upsetting and not at all relaxing - and not how it should be.

“When you’ve worked so many years, you expect your retirement to be pleasant and comfortable, and it just isn’t.”

Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing paint a bleak picture for some people in retirement, especially for women and single people.

According to the research, the state pension equals more than 50 percent of income for 59 percent of women in work after retirement compared to 41 percent of men.

Furthermore, 68 percent of the English 50 plus population whose income is entirely made up of state pension and benefits are women.

73 percent of people who are reliant on state pension and benefits are single people. Of these, 55 percent are single women, 18 percent are single men and 27 percent are cohabiting or married.

Retirement Living Standards have recently been published, in order to help members of the public picture what their retirement lifestyle could look like, as well as how much it could cost.

The new report, from Loughborough University and the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) found that for a single person, the “minimum” lifestyle would cost about £10,200 per year, while this rises to £20,200 per year for a “moderate” retirement.

For a “comfortable” retirement lifestyle, a single person could expect to need about £33,000.

For couples, the minimum standard came in at £15,700, the moderate was £29,100 while the comfortable lifestyle worked out as £47,500.

In London and the South East, the figures were slightly higher.

A full new state pension currently comes in at £8,767 for a single person.


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