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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 July 28; 335(7612): 176.
PMCID: PMC1934485

UK state pension inadequate for healthy living, report says

The minimum income needed for older people to enjoy a healthy life in England is 50% higher than the state pension.

A single pensioner aged at least 65 years needs £131 a week, and a couple need £208 (€310; $430) a week, a study has calculated (International Journal of Epidemiology 2007 Jul 12 doi: 10.1093/ije/dym129). The state pension is £139.60, before any additional means tested benefits, for a couple aged at least 65 years. It is £87.30 for a single person—£43.70 below the amount that the paper says is adequate for a single person.

“The results suggest that inadequate income currently could be a barrier to healthy living for older people in England,” say the authors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The researchers calculated the minimum income for healthy living (MIHL) for people aged at least 65 years who were living independently without serious disability. The calculations were based on the income required for a number of aspects of healthy living, including diet; fuel; physical activity; housing; psychosocial relationships; medical, optical, and dental care; and hygiene.

The researchers devised a weekly diet using standard foods to meet daily energy and nutrition requirements, as well as health eating guidelines, which recommend fruit, vegetables, and oily fish. They costed the diet at £31.40 for moderately active single women, £33.20 for moderately active single men, and £63.70 for couples.

The costing for physical activity allowed for one weekly group exercise or swimming session or a solo swim (£1.50 for singles; £3.00 for couples), together with the costs of a walking stick and the expenses for kit for regular walking, swimming, and other exercise (60p a week for singles; £1.10 for couples).

Total costs for a healthy home, including fuel and maintenance, were £36.55 for a single pensioner and £39.48 for a couple. Ophthalmic services were costed at £1.60 for a couple, and over the counter medicines at £1 for a couple a week.

Weekly psychosocial costs, including for the telephone, gifts to grandchildren, social clubs, cinema, meeting friends, entertaining, television set and licence, newspapers, UK holidays, and hobbies, came to a total of £21.50 for a single pensioner and £31.10 for a couple. The researchers costed hygiene at £4.80 for a single pensioner and £7.80 for a couple.

“Our findings for England indicate that the current state pension and the official safety net, the pension credit guarantee (after means testing), fall below our estimated MIHL. Moreover, the MIHL is not intended to cover the 40% of older people who have significant defined disability, with the probable additional personal costs entailed. This of course will further increase the disparity between official benefits and the proposed MIHL,” say the authors.

The researchers say that there is no guarantee that pensioners would make healthy choices but add, “None the less, it would be a shortcoming of social policy if officially designated household incomes were below a level needed to allow the basic requirements of healthy living—especially in the context of government priorities to reduce health inequalities.”

Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group