Poor disappear in an illusion of affluence

Children’s centres are to offer comprehensive care in the most
disadvantaged areas; education action zones are in low-wage, low-
skills, low-achieving parts of the country. Each is admirable; each
driven by the idea that deprivation embraces whole

Poverty, however, is also often masked by surrounding prosperity.
So how can it be sifted out – and support provided that is
acceptable to those in need?

Earlier this month, a study by Barclays Bank revealed that,
although the illusion of wealth belongs to the South East, the
North tops the league. Tatton, Sheffield and Macclesfield easily
house the most well-heeled. Conversely, although London is the most
expensive region in which to live, 13 boroughs featured in the
bottom 20.

Last week, research published by Help the Aged again exposed a
pattern of hidden deprivation. The highest concentration of
impoverished old people are not only in the inner cities but also
in places such as Hampshire and Shropshire. “It shows that
anti-poverty strategies need to be refined,” says Paul Cann,
director of policy.

The study, Older People Count, suggests that on average 30
per cent of over-74s depend on means-tested benefits. But in the 30
wards with the highest dependency rates, many in thriving areas,
the proportion ranges from 79 per cent to more than 97 per

The elderly are expected to have a personality transplant when they
retire. The less gregarious are pushed to join lunch clubs, accept
meals on wheels and, infantilised, open up to “the welfare”. No
wonder so many resist for so long. My parents are in their eighties
in Hampshire. The only link they have with a support network is
their GP.

The Guardian reports that Bradford offers a Health Plus
scheme which provides benefits advice and support in 30 GPs’
surgeries. As a result, in the past two years the scheme has
increased patients’ benefits by £2.4m. My parents would use
such a scheme, viewing it as a right, not a signal of their

The Health Plus scheme widened to provide a national network would
help – as would significantly raising the minimum income guarantee.
Still, the elderly who are cold, hungry, lonely and marginalised do
not break into the affluent house next door. They just endure. So,
it is time the government commissioned a major piece of research
which made their plight – and the circumstances of all those
concealed by other people’s affluence – so visible, that something
has to be done.

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