Almost a fifth of pensioners in the UK are living in poverty, the highest number since 2012, according to an analysis of government figures.

Although levels of economic hardship in the overall population have remained relatively stable over the past decade, pensioner poverty has increased by 5 per cent, according to the study by Independent Age, a charity.About 2.1m people are living in poverty after paying their housing costs, of which about 1.1m are living in severe hardship. People aged over 85 are most affected, and women are worse affected than men, the charity said.

The rising number of people renting rather than owning homes, changes to pensions, and the low level of uptake of benefits were cited as reasons for the increase. The findings come as the government comes under pressure to fix a crisis in social care, which means thousands of elderly people are not receiving the help and support they need in later life.Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed his commitment to retaining the triple lock pension — an agreement by which the government must increase the state pension every year by the highest level average UK earnings growth, inflation or 2.5 per cent. However, a long awaited solution to the social care crisis has been delayed until later this year.Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Independent Age, said the rise in pensioner poverty was a “ticking time-bomb that cannot be ignored”.“Living in poverty impacts on every area of a person’s life, including both their physical and mental health. People have told us they have been forced to make impossible decisions, between buying fresh food or whether to heat their homes in the colder months,” she added.The charity says the number of struggling pensioners could be drastically reduced if people receive the financial support they are entitled to via pension credit — extra money designed to help with living costs for people over state pension age and on a low income. In 2019 there was almost £1.8bn in unclaimed pension credits.“The government must urgently come up with a plan to increase the level of pension credit uptake, including effective and targeted awareness campaigns, research into who is missing out and why, improved communication to people who are eligible, and exploring options around auto-enrolment,” said Alsina.Previous research commissioned by Independent Age found that maximising pension credit uptake and ensuring everyone entitled to it receives it, could lift roughly three in 10 pensioners out of poverty and reduce the number living in severe poverty by half.People aged 85 and over have the highest rate of poverty among pensioners, at 22 per cent. Poverty is rising fastest in London, where about 25 per cent of pensioners are living in hardship, up 7 per cent since 2012/2014.The Department for Work and Pensions said it wants “everyone to claim the benefits to which they’re entitled”. “That’s why we’re constantly working to increase awareness of pension credit,” it added.