THE fact that two million pensioner households remain in poverty is a national disgrace. It is something we should all be ashamed of and something that we should all pledge ourselves to do something about.

We should do that not only because it is right, but also because it is in our interests to eradicate this problem.

One day, we will all join the growing ranks of Britain’s old people. For some of us it will be sooner rather than later. Then, perhaps for the first time, we will wake up to the fact that this is a terrible and avoidable social injustice.

Poverty is defined by the wise men and women who crunch our numbers as living on 60 per cent of the national average income. I am sure that the old people who know what poverty means will have much simpler and telling definitions. It is the choice between staying warm and eating; between visiting a friend or relation and staying at home; of how to maintain your health and dignity in difficult circumstances.

Of course, there has been progress. The Office for National Statistics told us this week that nearly one million older people have been lifted out of poverty. But other factors show clearly that this is an area where we need to raise our performance.

The decrease in value of the state pension is a stark example. A generation ago, it made up half of a pensioner’s income. Now, it accounts for a third, just about the same as the occupational pension.

That means we are seeing the start of a great divide – between those who have a second source of income and a measure of security and those relying solely on state provision.

With more employers downgrading or closing pension schemes, the have-nots can only increase.

Then there is the sheer weight of population change. By 2032, one in four people will be aged over 65. The number of over-85s will have grown more than any other age group.

These changes will have huge implications for housing, health, transport and social care. I hear a lot of talk about how we must meet this challenge and, to be fair, a lot of good intentions. What I don’t see are the actions to back them up.

But this isn’t just about money or figures; it is about valuing older people for themselves, recognising them as a source of experience, expertise and wisdom. It is about ensuring they know they are valued. Last year, a poll of more than 1,000 people over 65 found that 24 per cent felt their quality of life was getting worse. Two out of three felt they were discriminated against and half thought that the organisations planning essential services did not take them sufficiently into account.

Older people are often accused of failing to move with the times. The fact is that it is the rest of us who have failed to adapt to the new realities facing an important section of our community. The next government will inevitably have a lengthy “To Do” list. But putting this right should be at the top of it.

Some 50 years ago, the Daily Mirror ran a national campaign drawing attention to the appalling conditions many elderly people had to endure. At the end of it the great columnist William Connor, whose pen name was Cassandra, wrote: “For those who will help there is still time to rescue the aged before it is dark.”

It is sad that 50 years on, a much lesser columnist has to deliver the same message.

Let’s just hope it gets through this time.