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The Myth of the Woopie?: Incomes, the Elderly, and Targeting Welfare

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 November 2008

Jane Falkingham
Affiliation:
Research Officer on the Welfare State Programme, STICERD, London School of Economics, Houghton St., London WC2, UK
Christina Victor
Affiliation:
Director of the Public Health Research Unit, Department of Public Health, St Mary's Hospital, London W2, UK

Abstract

Comments made by a UK Government minister in 1989 concerning poverty, or rather the lack of it, amongst elderly people once again reflected the idea that the majority are well-off and less in need of State support than was the case in the past. The idea of a new group of Woopies (well off older persons) has been used as justification for debate about the introduction of means-testing for certain benefits directed at the elderly population. This paper challenges that view. It traces the evolution of the Woopie using published data and then examines the socio-economic characteristics of such a group. In a series of logit estimates to determine what factors are of importance in determining ‘Woopie status’, unsurprisingly receipt of income from assets and from an occupational pension are the most significant variables. Finally the scope for policy changes is examined.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1991

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References

NOTES

1 Cm. 1014 (1990), The Government's Expenditure Plans 1990–91 to 1992–93. HMSO, London.Google Scholar

2 The Times and The Guardian, 7 November 1988.

3 Cm. 849 (1989), Caring for People. HMSO, London.Google Scholar

4 For further data on income sources see the paper by Ian Gibbs, ‘Income, capital and the cost of care in old age’, in this issue of Ageing and Society.

5 Cmnd. 9517, Reform of Social Security (p. 11). HMSO, London, 1985.Google Scholar

6 Central Statistical Office, Social Trends 16. HMSO, London, 1986.Google Scholar

7 Barr, N. and Coulter, F., Social security: solution or problem. In Hills, J. (ed), The State of Welfare: The Welfare State in Britain since 1974. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990.Google Scholar

8 Central Statistical Office, Social Trends 14. HMSO, London, 1984.Google Scholar

9 Thomson, D., Incomes in old age – rising or falling? Mimeo paper, 1987.Google Scholar

10 See Johnson, P. and Falkingham, J., Intergenerational transfers and public expenditure on the elderly in modern Britain. Ageing and Society, 8 (1988), 129–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

11 Evandrou, M. and Victor, C., Differentiation in later life: class and housing tenure cleavages. In Bytheway, B. (ed.), Becoming and Being Old. Sage, London, 1988.Google Scholar

12 For a more detailed account of the sample and methodology used in collection see OPCS, General Household Survey 1985. HMSO, London, 1987.Google Scholar

13 Attention is drawn to the extensive work on income-sharing within the household by Jan, Pahl, Money and Marriage. Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1989.Google Scholar See also Brannen, J. and Wilson, G. (eds), Give and Take in Families. Allen and Unwin, London, 1987Google Scholar and Glendinning, C. and Millar, J. (eds), Women and Poverty in Britain. Wheatsheaf, Brighton, 1987.Google Scholar

14 Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth. HMSO, London, 1978.Google Scholar

15 The authors recognise the problems inherent in allocating elderly people, and in particular elderly women, to social class categories. For a fuller discussion of such difficulties readers are referred to Evandou, M. and Victor, C., op. cit.

16 Wood, D.Supplementary Pensioners. Social and Community Planning Research, London, 1987.Google Scholar

17 Huby, M., Lawson, D. and Walker, R., Avoiding financial dependency in old age. Working Paper 416, Social Policy Research Unit, York, 1988.Google Scholar

18 Townsend, P.Poverty in the United Kingdom. Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1979.Google Scholar

19 For a critical examination of the relevance of dependency rates in this debate see Falkingham, J., Dependency and ageing in Britain: a re-examination of the evidence. Journal of Social Policy, 18, 2 (1989), 211–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

20 Cmd. 933, Report of the Committee on the Economic and Financial Problems of the Provision for Old Age. HMSO, London, 1954.Google Scholar

21 See Johnson, P. and Falkingham, J., op. cit.

22 Department of Health and Social Security, Reform of Social Security: Background Papers. HMSO, London, 1985.Google Scholar

23 TAXMOD is a static microsimulation model developed by Holly Sutherland at the London School of Economics for analysing the distributional impact of changes in government fiscal policy. For a full description of the model see Atkinson, A. B. and Sutherland, H. (eds), Tax Benefit Models. STICERD Occasional Paper 10, STICERD, London School of Economics, London, 1988.Google Scholar

24 Interestingly, the percentage of pensioner families with incomes in or above the age allowance taper – 4.75% – is almost exactly the same as the proportion defined as Woopies in the earlier part of the paper. The two groups are not, of course, directly comparable, as the former is based on family units constructed from the FES, and the latter on individuals from the GHS. However, the similarity of the proportionate magnitude between the two sources adds to the confidence in our earlier definition of Woopie as a meaningful one.

25 Department of Social Security, Supplementary Benefit take-up 1985. Analytic Services Division Technical Note, 1989.Google Scholar

26 Johnson, P. and Webb, S.Poverty in Official Statistics: Two Reports, IFS Commentary No. 24. IFS, London, 1990.Google Scholar

27 This is confirmed by analysis of service receipt and income in Evandrou, M., Falkingham, J. and Glennerster, H., The personal social services: everyone's poor relation but nobody's baby. In Hills, J. (ed.), The State of Welfare: The Welfare State in Britain since 1974. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990.Google Scholar

28 Titmuss, R.Essays on ‘the Welfare State’. George Allen & Unwin, London, 1963.Google Scholar

29 Department of Health and Social Security, Low Income Families 1985. HMSO, London, 1988.Google Scholar

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