When I was a cub reporter, writing for the paper of record at a time when the economy was booming and weekly personal finance pages numbered more than two dozen, the phrase ‘hardy perennial’ was bandied about on a regular basis.
Like the plants which reappear year after year, in this context ‘hardy perennial’ referred to the type of money article sure to appeal to readers, focusing on a topic which never went out of fashion. So, pieces on the challenges facing first-time buyers, guides to buying an annuity, that sort of thing.
It’s more than 15 years since I last heard that expression. Nevertheless, it’s as relevant today as it was when interest rates hovered around the 5 per cent mark (imagine that!) and negative growth was a laughable concept.
I was reminded of the hardy perennial this morning when an email about the cost of living squeeze landed in my inbox. If you write about the same subject for long enough, you get used to repetitive press releases. But I realised something important today, something I’d lost sight of over the years.
While I’d be happy never to write about fixed-rate mortgages or income drawdown ever again, there’s a reason these topics reoccur: they matter to people.
And so to the latest research on the financial affairs of the over-60s. According to Homewise, cost of living pressures are forcing nearly one in three people aged 60 and above to make major sacrifices just to get by.
The property experts found that 29 per cent of the over-60s have implemented savings cutback such as borrowing from family and friends and selling possessions. Around 12 per cent say they cannot afford to heat their homes while up to 10 per cent are eating less in order to save their pennies.
The research underlines the growing financial pressures on people in the run-up to retirement and highlights the struggle for millions despite the rise in average pensioner incomes.
Government figures show average pensioner household incomes after tax and housing costs are around £297 a week and that pensioner household incomes have increased by around 19 per cent over the past decade.
But Homewise’s study reveals that around 600,000 of the over-60s have less than £50 a week in spare cash.
Mark Neal, managing director at Homewise, said: ‘The rise in average pensioner incomes is very welcome but it does not tell the whole story and the sacrifices that many have to make in order to get by. Far too many people in retirement are stuck in debt, living in unsuitable housing and having to scrimp and save.’
A quick search on the internet reveals a similar story from 2011. Then, a study by Age UK reported that one in five pensioners had to cut back on everyday essentials such as food and heating because of the rising cost of living, with nearly half of pensioners saying they were ‘just getting by’ and one in 10 admitting they were ‘really struggling’.
What does this say about our society? Five years on and nothing has changed. If anything, the financial situation for many of the UK’s over-60s has worsened – and shows no sign of improvement. Consider this comment from Steven Cameron, pensions director at Aegon, made shortly after interest rates were cut to a record low last week: ‘The further cut in interest rates means now is probably the worst time ever to be making a retirement decision, with those buying an annuity today locking in to super-low returns for life.’
I’m no fortune teller but I’m willing to bet that, five years from now, I’ll be reading another study about older people struggling with the rising cost of living.
Helen Nugent is Online Money Editor of The Spectator