Does Labour have anything to offer the elderly?

True to form, the Tories have designed policies which mainly cater to wealthy pensioners


I received an email this week from a lady who felt that Britain’s 11.5 million people aged 65 and above were being ignored in Labour’s internal elections.

I have to admit I think she’s put her finger on something important here. Former chief secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne recently admitted that at the election ‘Labour was left scrabbling around for something to say to older voters’.

So how can we start to put that right?

Let’s begin with the politics. Labour lost the election partly because it lost the ‘grey vote’. Among over-65s the Tories won the most support by a thumping 47 per cent to 23 per cent.

Though Labour won handsomely amongst younger voters, it was the older voters who turned out in droves to secure victory for the Conservatives. A crude analysis is that the Tories have bribed older voters by protecting, say, universal winter fuel allowances, free TV licences and bus passes whilst clobbering younger voters with tuition fees, EMA, housing benefit etc.

However, what makes this a crude analysis is that it masks the poverty faced by significant numbers of pensioners. This is often linked to problems with health and is exacerbated by the 31 per cent cuts to adult social care budgets over the last five years.

On top of this is the reduction in meals on wheels services, with a third of councils abandoning them entirely. This may well have contributed to the fact that nearly a third of pensioners are found to be suffering from malnutrition when admitted to hospital.

The idea that Tory policies have favoured pensioners is a sweeping generalisation – true to form they’ve protected better off pensioners but failed to target help where it’s most needed.

So what should be done? Part of the solution could come from implementing in full the report of the Dilnot Commission (2011), which argued for the cap on the cost of social care to the individual to be lowered to £35,000 from the present £72,000.

Another part of the solution lies in the long standing Labour policy of integrating health and social care, and improving the discharge planning from hospitals that often results in elderly people being readmitted. A future Labour government must also be focussed on using the Equality Act 2010 to ensure equal access to treatment.

Research has highlighted that treatment rates drop disproportionately for people over 70-75 years in areas such as surgery, chemotherapy and talking therapies.

However, it would be wrong to define our policy approach purely in economic terms. Isolation and loneliness can sadly often be features of old age. This can be caused by a host of factors including bereavement, ill health or a lack of public transport. Age UK have argued that:

“Reducing loneliness should be treated as an important public health priority and local government should include it as an objective in their Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNAs) and in health and well being strategies, working together with local housing, transport, health, care and voluntary organisations.”

Public bodies also have an important role to play in promoting volunteering and helping retired people develop new skills.

In addition, the internet has become a basic utility, but one that elderly people often lack access to. When my elderly in laws came from Greece to stay for a few months they struggled with English language media. When I taught them how to use my ipad to read Greek newspapers they were delighted.

Learning how to use the internet has also helped many older people stay in touch with far flung friends and family through social media.

Yet too many older people still find themselves the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’. One proposal to tackle this could include insisting that learning providers funded by the department of Business Innovation and Skills must provide support to help people get online.

In admitting that Labour had little to say to older voters, Liam Byrne went on to point out that by the 2020 election the majority of voters could be over 55. In light of this fact, he argued that ‘Labour’s politicians have to think again about their priorities if they want to win back office’.   

Tim Starkey is a barrister, Labour activist and candidate in Labour’s National Policy Forum elections. He blogs at

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11 Responses to “Does Labour have anything to offer the elderly?”

  1. Alasdair Macdonald

    As one of ‘the elderly’ I should like to point out to the author that I (my contemporaries and the even more elderly) were not always in this chronologically advanced state. Nor are we a uniform group. Many of us voted for Labour governments in 1964, 66, 74, 74, 97, 2002, 2005. Others voted for Tories in 70, 79, 83, 87, 92 and 20015. Some never voted, some have voted for a number of different parties. While we have more concerns about health than other age groups, this is a fact of being human, and most of us are pleased to have the NHS and are broadly satisfied with its service. We were educated, as were our children and our grandchildren are in the system so we have an interest in Education. We travel, despite Labour politicians, muttering about ‘something for nothing’ because of bus passes and senior railcards. Apart from a few suffering dementia, most of us still take an interest in current affairs. We are people as we always were. We have ‘needs’ specific to our group as do preschoolers, school and university age young people, women, etc. And, we are aware, that Liam Byrne provided David Cameron and George Osborne with one of the Tories’ most potent campaign charges of financial incompetence. You will be quoting Jack Straw next on probity!

  2. GTE

    However, what makes this a crude analysis is that it masks the poverty faced by significant numbers of pensioners.


    That’s because you spent every penny of pension contributions. That leaves a 400K debt, per tax payer.

    If that money had been invested, Mr Median would have a fund of 840K. That’s a 25K income and no debt to pay off.

    In other words, Mr Median has lost over a million. You took that from them and you put them into poverty.

    What’s a 75K cap when you’ve ripped them off for more than a million? A sop. It’s not going to affect anyone in poverty either. They don’t have 75K, because you took the lot.

    That’s what happens when you run a socialist pension ponzi and redistribute all the money. You make people poor.

  3. GTE

    A crude analysis is that the Tories have bribed older voters by protecting, say, universal winter fuel allowances, free TV licences and bus passes whilst clobbering younger voters with tuition fees, EMA, housing benefit etc.


    So cancel those.

    But in return, pay them the million quid you’ve stolen from them. They they wouldn’t need the perks.

  4. Cole

    Seems .labour are about to elect an elderly leader – who forgets what people he’s met…

  5. Selohesra

    Actually I think Corbyn will be good for Labour – he will be ousted before the next GE and Labour will have opportunity to elect fresh leader from someone who proves themselves over the next couple of years rather than the tired and tainted candidates they are being offered this time. Although as someone who would like to see Labour out of office for generation I was initially pleased about Corbyn’s progress I would now much rather Burnham was elected as he would try and hold on to GE and make even worse job of things than Ed.

  6. Godfrey Paul

    Labour seem to have given up on the mature voters. And it will not be forgotten at the next general election.

  7. Mike Stallard

    Tim, I do not know how old you are. Me, I am 76.
    I do not like the winter fuel hand-out because i cost more than that. I am, frankly, insulted by my free licence to watch the corrupt and overblown BBC. I do not need hand-outs. I made sure of that before I retired – just as you have, I guess.
    I love to be among the people in our centre for immigrants. I find that I can be useful and I honestly like all the people there, including three “boys” who have arrived from the Calais sort of thing. It is nice. I do a bit of successful A level coaching too and life drawing – i run my own class for that. We had a nude model who was a barrister – very amusing and a good draw too!
    I voted Conservative because I believe that people ought tone allowed to get on with it. I do not believe in the government because it is composed of people who do not know what they are doing. In my own experience they strive above all to protect themselves. The miracles i see at TESCOS, ASDA, the local bus services, and Nationwide, not to mention the Health Service when people are allowed to get on with it are astounding.
    I loathe the EU.
    Now tell me, how are Labour people going to reach me – and the people like me who voted Conservative?

  8. funkinwolf

    You’re clearly a solid (right wing) Tory voter. So you know the answer.

  9. Faerieson

    Unless reasonably ‘well-pensioned’ the manner in which society is structured leads to far too many retired people becoming increasingly isolated- loss of partners, finance etc. Tragically, successive governments have pandered increasingly to neoliberal (egocentric) pressures, which merely accelerates this divide. Some, like Blair, have served themselves very well! The more infirm people become the more the UK’s neoliberal values seems to regard them- homes, savings, health- as easy money.

    So, surely, the candidate who espouses a more egalitarian outlook would be the best choice. If the UK looks to grow as a society, rather than through nonsensical ‘sustained growth’ then cases of extreme isolation become less likely. In this context- increased division or a more egalitarian alternative?- it is unsurprising to find so many vested interests pretending concern at the competence of Jeremy Corbyn.

    If Mr Corbyn is unable to implement many of his stated policies it will be far more down to sustained undermining rather than to any real issues of competence. The trouble is that the neoliberalism of everything means that far too many big fish have invested in ‘this lie’ to want to address the problem. The smaller fishes need to peer beyond the goldfish bowl!

  10. Faerieson

    They’re not, you are entrenched in your narrow outlook. If Labour get elected you will either have to widen your views, or grumble a lot to like-minded types. Should you become increasingly infirm, as will many of us in old age, you might yet come to question your views. As did my father.

  11. Faerieson

    In my experience, I have found that those who revert to reactionary terms, like ‘ponzi’ know surprisingly little outside of their blinkered ‘world.’

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