21,000 a year die alone and penniless

Queen in graveyardPA

Think your Monday leaves something to be desired? Try waking up alone and penniless and knowing this is how you will see out your days.

It's a horribly reality for more than 21,000 older people, who will finally end up with a pauper's funeral. But how can this be possible?

Pauper's funeral

The figures, from older people's charity Anchor, found that around 21,000 people pass away every year without money in place or family willing or able to pick up the bill. As a result they end up with a state-funded burial or cremation.

In some parts of the country the number of those dying penniless is a particular problem. On average there have been 17,000 state-funded funerals in the North West, 11,900 in the West Midlands and over 11,000 in London in the past five years. Over that time the South East has seen a 14% increase in state-funded burials and cremations and the East Midlands saw an 8% rise.

Living in poverty

And while such a tawdry end to life is tragic, there are many more living in poverty for decades which should focus yet more attention. According to data from the Family Resources Survey 2010, there are 300,000 people whose only source of income is the state pension and the state second pension. This means 300,000 people living on just £37 a day to cover all expenses including rent, bills and food.

Minister for Older People

Anchor Chief Executive Jane Ashcroft said: "Our ageing population is growing and so is the worrying picture of isolation and loneliness across the country. This is why it is so important that older people are given a voice at the highest level. We are urging the Government to listen and appoint a Minister for Older People. We urgently need a dedicated Minister who can take responsibility for joining up policies affecting older people, ensuring they are looked at in the round, rather than as fragmented issues."

On the one hand, it's not a bad idea, having someone in Westminster tasked with ensuring no-one falls through the cracks in the system and lives out their final years in terrible poverty. On the other, unless we also tackle the fundamental problems leaving people to face old age without any independent means, this individual will simply be left watching life get worse for their constituents.

Why people are in poverty

The structural problems are many and various. We need to work out how to get people to save for their retirement. We need to free up cash in their current budgets to make it affordable. We need a solution to stop them having to spend every penny on care in their old age, and we need to build a society where planning for your future is given the focused attention it needs and surpasses the attractions of blowing the lot on having a good time today.

This is going to take more than a Minister for Older People. But what will it take?

Let us know in the comments.
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