A MONTH or so back, a respected anti-poverty charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) published a report charting changes to living standards in the UK over the past decade.

The charity, after widespread consultation with the public, worked out a level of income needed to live an adequate lifestyle. Those falling below that minimum income standard face a daily struggle to make ends meet. These are the families and individuals who have to literally count the pennies. They don’t necessarily all fall below the poverty line, but their lives are severely restricted by lack of cash.

They eat cheap food, wear second-hand clothes, go without holidays, shiver their way through the winter months because they can’t afford to heat their homes, and dread Christmases and birthdays because of the social pressure to buy gifts and attend expensive nights out.

They suffer disproportionately from physical and mental illness, their average life expectancy is lower than average, their children tend to leave school with few if any qualifications.

And they tend not to vote, mainly because they don’t see the point. Governments come and go but nothing really changes. Many in Scotland were inspired to get out to the polling stations in 2014 to vote Yes, but abstention rates were higher among those below the minimum income standard. Had they voted in the same proportions as the most affluent groups, we would now have an independent Scotland.

This is not a marginalised group at the outer edge of society. There are 19 million of them in UK today – more than 30 per cent of the entire population. And their numbers are growing – by four million people over the past seven years, according to the JRF. And there is no respite on the horizon.

The headline figures tell only part of the story. Dig deeper, and the picture painted by this report shows a sea change in the demographics of despair. A generation ago, the word pensioner was almost synonymous with poverty. The 65-and-over age group were generally poorer than the rest of the population.

But not these days. The JRF report shows that more than 75 per cent of children growing up in lone-parent households fall below the minimum income standard compared to less than 10 per cent of pensioner couples.

Single pensioners don’t fare so well – but as a general rule, older people are substantially better off than the generations below them.

An adult of working age is twice as likely to live on the edge of poverty than someone over 65. Children are three times more likely to suffer financial hardship than pensioners.

Other research has found that people born in the 1940s are by far the wealthiest segment of the UK population. And they receive a range of publicly funded benefits denied to the rest of the population, from free bus travel to winter heating allowances.

I should hasten to add that I’m not calling for an end to these benefits, nor suggesting that all over-65s are enjoying the good life.

But the disparity of incomes across the generations helps us better understand why, with monotonous consistency, poll after poll reveals that the baby boomer generation oppose independence in overwhelming numbers. One recent survey showed that over-65s would vote No in a second referendum by a staggering margin of 70 to 30.

And their voices are loud and strong. Come election day – or referendum day – they can always be relied upon to turn out to the polling stations.

As well as having more money, they also have more time on their hands. They have long dominated the radio phone-in programmes and the newspaper letters pages. And in the past few years they’ve taken to social and digital media in vast numbers. Donald Trump is not the only septuagenarian Twitter warrior.

Some will claim that Unionism among the elderly is strong because they have more wisdom and experience. I would suggest it’s because they have more money.

“Your old road is rapidly ageing, please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand, for the times they are-a-changing,” sang Bob Dylan more than half a century ago. But that generation who wanted to change the world back in the 1960s have themselves changed. Many have become affluent and privileged, and along the way have acquired an “I’m all right, Jack” attitude. And as one bearded old philosopher – Karl Marx – once explained: “Conditions determine consciousness”.

I realise I’m making some generalisations here, so I should stress that many older people – including some who live a reasonably comfortable lifestyle – remain young at heart, open to new ideas and brim-full of compassion. They’re the ones who were most likely to vote Yes in 2014. Many of them are the most committed and hardworking advocates for independence in the whole movement.

But what about the others – that phalanx of between 60 and 70 per cent whose hostility to independence seems entrenched? Can we win at least some of them over? Or should we just abandon them and allow demographics to take their course, while we concentrate on those sections of the population who might be more open to progressive change?

There are 1.3 million over-60s in Scotland. But there are 3.2 million aged 16 to 60. In the last referendum, those aged 25 to 29 voted Yes in the biggest proportions – more than 62 per cent. But that still leaves 38 per cent, even of this age group, who voted No – and that’s before we start to think about those who failed to use their vote. In terms of sheer numbers, the greatest potential for the independence movement lies decisively with the under-60s.

AS recent research by Dr Craig Dalzell of Common Weal has revealed, if we could increase support for independence by just five per cent among those whose annual incomes fall below £25,000, we would boost the Yes vote by 400, 000 – more than we needed to close the 380,000 gap in the 2014 referendum.

So surely our energies, and our messages, should be more strongly focused on swelling support for independence – and raising the turnout – among that huge swathe of Scotland’s electorate? Much of the discourse since 2014 has been focused on how to convince the senior population. But when age is combined with wealth, the over-65s look to me like the most difficult group to shift.

Of course, we should try and persuade every person, of every age and every background, to support independence in the next referendum. But I’m not sure we should be devoting most of our energy to the most problematic demographic group.

This is not about dismissing anyone on grounds of age, and nor do I wish to insult any of my many older friends. This is not personal.

It’s about looking at the hard statistics, identifying our strengths, deciding where we should concentrate our energies, working out how we should tailor our communications and devising a strategy most likely to win.