WOULD it surprise you to learn that more than one in seven of Scotland’s older people lives in poverty? As a charity working to end poverty in later life across the country, we frequently come up against myths about all pensioners living in mortgage-free mansions and jetting off on multiple sunny holidays every year.

This lazy stereotype isn’t just untrue, it’s harmful.

The harsh reality is that 150,000 pensioners in Scotland – and two million across the whole of the UK – live in poverty. This poverty becomes more dangerous when it’s hidden and ignored, as it frequently is.

It can make tackling it even more of a challenge, especially when the Scottish Government’s figures show severe financial hardship in later life is sharply on the rise. That’s why we must see change.

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Our new First Minister must use his maiden Programme for Government to take action against this worrying situation.

Recent events have pulled into focus the squeeze on household budgets across the country.

However, experiencing a cost of living crisis has long been the daily reality for older people in poverty.

We hear from those in later life who are washing in cold water, not switching the lights on, and not eating fresh food, all to save money.

People like Heather, in her late 70s, who told us that due to the cost of energy, she cannot afford to heat her home or pay for repairs when they are needed.

Heather’s experience exemplifies a worrying trend – deep poverty and fuel poverty have been increasing among older people in Scotland.

Terrifyingly, the most recent Government figures show that there has been a rise of 33% in the number of older people in severe poverty over the past 10 years.

This situation will likely have a detrimental effect on every aspect of their lives, from worsening their physical health due to making dangerous cutbacks on food and energy to negatively affecting mental health due to anxiety, stress and isolation.

Every day, our Independent Age advisers see the difference individual action can make. The older people living on low incomes who call our free helpline often discover they are entitled to money such as Pension Credit or Housing Benefit.

We help them unlock what can sometimes be as much as thousands of pounds a year through these social security entitlements. The impact can be dramatic; suddenly, they are able to turn on the heating for an extra few hours, cook a hot meal, or meet a friend for a coffee.

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BUT individual action alone is not enough. To halt the rise of pensioner poverty, we need action on a national scale from governments in both Westminster and Holyrood.

Take Pension Credit. Our estimates show that if take-up was 100% (instead of the current estimate of 63%). around 38,000 older people in Scotland could be lifted out of poverty overnight.

Equally if you take fuel poverty, improved energy efficiency in homes could be a game-changer for older people living on low incomes currently priced out of keeping warm.

The path to reducing and eradicating pensioner poverty can be paved.

The first step is setting out a blueprint, a pensioner poverty strategy for Scotland. We need a plan to engage with older people in poverty and meet their needs, setting out actions to boost incomes and social security uptake, improve housing affordability and energy efficiency, and increase the data on financial hardship in later life that is collected and monitored.

Fast approaching is an opportunity where this bold action could be taken.

The new First Minister could use his upcoming Programme for Government to commit to develop a strategy to tackle pensioner poverty so that everyone in later life across Scotland is financially secure.

We also need action from all political parties in Westminster. In the short term, it’s essential that everyone in older age living in financial insecurity receives the existing support they are entitled to through the social security system.

Longer term, we need political parties to work together to establish an adequate minimum level of income needed in later life to avoid poverty, and then take action to ensure everyone receives it.

Reducing pensioner poverty is not only possible, but essential. With bold action, together, we can listen to the voices of those experiencing poverty in later life, halt and reverse the current rising trend and pave the way to a later life free from poverty for the pensioners of today and tomorrow.

Debbie Horne is the Scotland policy and public affairs manager at the charity Independent Age