NEARLY 25,000 more Scots pensioners have been plunged into poverty since the 2009 recession sparked by a global financial crisis and the big banks bailout - prompting a new call for an older people's tsar to oversee legally binding targets to curb deprivation.

Analysis based on official data reveals that the numbers in Scotland in relative poverty after housing costs have risen from around 128,000 on average in a three period from 2008 to 150,000 over the three years before the pandemic hit.

Relative poverty describes circumstances in which people cannot afford actively to participate in society and benefit from the activities and experiences that most people take for granted. It usually means households are bringing in less than 60% of average income.

And it has emerged that the proportion of those in poverty after housing costs has risen from 12% to 14%.

Older people's charity Independent Age said the Scottish Government needed to take urgent action to tackle pensioner poverty including providing a long-term written strategy for reducing pensioner poverty which includes statutory targets.

It said ministers should establish an Older People’s Commissioner for Scotland to amplify older people’s voices and champion their interests.

The charity also said action should be taken to address the immediate cost of living crisis on older people, including targeted promotion of the Scottish Welfare Fund, which although a lifeline for those in need of household goods and appliances, was referenced by none of interviewees it spoke to about their circumstances "implying awareness of the resource it is not reaching those it should be helping".

It has raised concerns that the cost of living crisis is plunging ever more older people into financial hardship. Claire Donaghy, head of Scotland at Independent Age said: “Older people in Scotland desperately need action to stop their financial insecurity.

HeraldScotland: Pensioner poverty is a major issue.

“No one dreams of a later life plagued by anxiety about unexpected bills and being forced to cut down on food and sit in the cold. But this is now the reality for many older people in Scotland. The cost of living crisis has taken them to breaking point.”

“If the Scottish Government is serious about making Scotland the best place in the world to grow old, the first steps it can take is committing to implementing the recommendations in our report. This must include the development of a pensioner poverty strategy, the creation of an Older People’s Commissioner and addressing the immediate cost of living crisis. “A warm home, being able to eat properly and a decent level of wellbeing are essential for the health and quality of life of all older people in Scotland, and should be a human right for all of us as we age.” Research from the charity shows that huge numbers of people over 65 in financial hardship are now cutting back on essentials.

Polling from November 2022 of 531 adults over 65 in Scotland showed that in households with incomes less than £20,000 per year, 61% of older people are cutting back on food and drink and 74% are cutting back on heating, despite extreme cold temperatures felt across the country this winter.

For its analysis, the charity interviewed 38 people over 65 on a low income to understand the experience of pensioner poverty in Scotland. The in-depth interviews uncovered struggles across three central themes of income, costs and housing. Two in three of interviewees agreed that managing money was a concern.

And over half (53%) of older people said that their current income was reducing their quality of life.

One said that the State Pension was “not enough to live on” while many expressed frustration with the level of income older people are expected to live on and lack of financial support available from the government.

The polling showed that 69% of households with people aged over 65, and an income of less than £20,000 per year, are concerned they won’t be able to pay for electric in the next six months.

And 65% were worried they won’t be able to pay for gas over the same period.

Paying for food is also a concern, with 55% of those over 65 on a low income worried they won’t be able to pay for food and drink in the next 6 months8.

Many spoke about the large energy bill increases they were experiencing.

One said: “I just got my estimated bill for next year. Went from £150 a month to £615 a month… that’s basically all my earnings."

Older people across Scotland on a low income are terrified of unexpected housing costs they can’t afford.

One interviewee said: “My biggest fear is that my washing machine… or fridge breaks down or anything like that. I would just have to borrow money… and that’s something I’ve never done in my life. Never.”

Minister for older people Christina McKelvie said: "The Scottish Government is very concerned about the hardship older people are facing in this cost of living crisis. Our Winter Heating Payment will provide a reliable annual payment of £50 to support 400,000 low income households including those in receipt of Pension Credit. 

“The delivery of the State Pension is reserved to the UK Government. We urge them to stick to their promise to protect the Triple Lock, especially as the cost of living increases, and to actively promote pension credit. 

“Although we do not have plans to create a Commissioner for Older People, we work closely with partners to improve age equality.Our Cost of Living website contains dedicated information on the support available for older people, including benefits and travel. Our forthcoming human rights bill will include provision for older people.”




Debbie Horne, Scotland Poverty and Public Affairs Manager for Independent Age


Being forced to rely on a foodbank so you can eat. Sitting wrapped up in bed all day because it’s the only place you can stay warm. Being stuck alone in your home because you can’t afford to meet a friend for a simple cup of tea.

This is not the retirement that any of us dream about and it’s not even close to an acceptable way to live, no matter your age.

But, as a charity working with older people in financial hardship in Scotland, we hear from people experiencing this everyday across the country. Today, our charity, Independent Age, is launching our new research report “Not enough to live on”: Pensioner poverty in Scotland, unveiling the grim reality of poverty in later life through in-depth interviews with 38 older people living on a low income.

With pensioner poverty at risk of slipping off the political agenda, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a problem that has been solved. A pervasive stereotype of an older person who spends their retirement taking foreign holidays and hording wealth exists. But this myth is torpedoed by the stories our team hear from older people every day: those struggling with the intense anxiety of paying an unexpected bill, sitting in the cold or being hungry due to only eating a meal a day.


The number of pensioners in poverty in Scotland has swelled to 150,000 in recent years – that’s 1 in 7 older people. In fact, this number has increased by a quarter in the last decade. That’s 30,000 more people living the end of their life in poverty. But behind these statistics, each person has a story to tell.

Take Eddie, who recently had a heart attack, but is unable to afford the healthy fresh food his doctor recommends and instead must use a food bank. Or Isobel, who has a terminal illness, and told us she is living without heating or hot water apart from her electric shower and doesn’t turn on the lights at night, because of the cost. Stories like this are heartbreakingly and frustratingly too common. It doesn’t have to be this way.

That’s why we’re calling on the Scottish Government to urgently renew its focus on pensioner poverty.

What older people urgently need is for the Scottish Government to commit to reducing poverty in later life. Implementing the recommendations set out in our report would demonstrate this commitment. Firstly, the Scottish Government must create a long-term strategy with legally binding targets, setting out how they will reduce poverty in later life and halt its current, devastating upwards trend. Secondly, as the number of older people grows due to an ageing population, we want to see the creation of an Older People’s Commissioner to ensure the interests and rights of older people, including those living in poverty, are championed and acted upon by the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government and local authorities must also raise awareness of the Scottish Welfare Fund to help support people through the immediate cost of living crisis. The Fund offers emergency funding for (amongst other things) those who need help with food or heating costs. None of the 38 interviewees mentioned this resource, showing that it is not always reaching those who desperately need financial support.

The Scottish Government has spoken of its aim to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow old. It’s an admirable ambition, but one that requires an intense focus on preventing pensioner poverty if it is to be achieved. Without action, the decent standard of living we all have a right to in later life is at risk.