The majority of South Africa's older population is income poor and lives in multigeneration households. Since the first democratically elected government came into power in 1994, South Africans have been promised 'a better life for all'. A range of policies and programmes has been implemented to improve the living standards and quality of life of the poor. The article asks how the older poor have benefited from government interventions in the period 1995-8. Drawing on data compiled from Statistics South Africa's household surveys in 1995 and 1998 (n=20 000-30 000 households), a set of over 35 objective and subjective indicators broken down by income and younger and older households is reviewed. Older households include at least one member over 60 years of age. Results show that access to services and opportunities improves systematically from poor to rich households. Major material gains for the poor and older households during the review period include access to clean water, electricity and home ownership. Older poor households with better access to services and opportunities are more likely to express overall satisfaction with their living circumstances. The study concludes that the most effective mechanism for poverty alleviation appears to be the non-contributory, means-tested state old-age pension, which lifts some households out of the most disadvantaged bottom income group. Policies under discussion promise further opportunities for empowering poor households with older members.