Material deprivation among older people

A broader poverty measure is needed for older people that looks beyond low income, according to research published by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Two linked pieces of research look at material deprivation among older people. The first study provides in-depth quantitative analysis of the material deprivation and low income experiences of older people, based on Family Resources Survey (FRS) data. The second is a qualitative study comprising 29 in-depth interviews with pensioners aged 65 and over, exploring the non-income factors that 'push down’ or 'pull up’ their material circumstances across four categories: basic needs, dealing with financial shocks, housing needs and meeting social needs.

Key findings (quantitative study)

  • Around 20 per cent of pensioners experience some level of relative poverty or material deprivation.
  • Social deprivation is the most common form of material deprivation for pensioners, with over 90 per cent of materially deprived pensioners lacking a social item (for example, being able to go on a holiday, or see friends and family regularly). Very few pensioners lack basic items, such as not being able to have a filling meal each day or not having a warm coat.
  • More than half (51 per cent) of all pensioners do not report any level of material deprivation. A further 40 per cent report that they lack up to three of the 15 items considered in the study: but none of these individuals is deemed 'materially deprived’ according to the FRS definition.
  • The vast majority of those pensioners who are materially deprived have a score which means they lack between three and six items.

Key findings (qualitative study)

  • The variability in the financial and non-financial cost of living in different local areas, often resting on differences between rural and urban localities, means that material deprivation can occur for quite different reasons – for example high rents, high transport costs, or poor access to local amenities.
  • Government support plays a key role in helping lower the costs of housing and the maintenance of pensioners’ homes - for example, through schemes that subsidise heating and insulation. The support provided for pensioners in social housing is also a significant factor in reducing the costs of home upkeep.
  • The onset or deterioration of physical and mental capacity has a significant influence on older people's material circumstances, not least because of the increased costs associated with ill-health and reduced mobility. Informal support from family or local community has a central role to play in plugging the gaps in material circumstances.
  • Ability to cope with living on a low income is strongly influenced by financial capability and knowledge, so that income can be stretched to avoid material deprivation, and finances structured in a way that effectively deals with financial shortfalls.

Low income does not automatically result in a pensioner living in material deprivation, the authors of the second study conclude, because some manage well on a low income. On the other hand, pensioners who have an income above the low-income threshold might still experience material deprivation due to higher living costs. A poverty measure is therefore needed for this group that goes beyond income alone.

Sources: Mehul Kotecha, Sue Arthur and Steven Coutinho, Understanding the Relationship between Pensioner Poverty and Material Deprivation, Research Report 827, Department for Work and Pensions | Anna Bartlett, Claire Frew and Joanne Gilroy, Understanding Material Deprivation among Older People, In-House Research 14, Department for Work and Pensions
LinksResearch report | Summary | In-House Report