Freezing homes leave UK pensioners vulnerable to heart attacks and stroke this winter

A leading charity has warned that the number of older people trapped in fuel poverty could pass 1.1 million by spring 2022 unless the UK government takes immediate action.

The charity has warned that soaring energy prices could plunge an extra 150,000 older people into fuel poverty this winter, with the total number of fuel poor older households surpassing 1.1 million by spring next year.

With around one million older households already living in fuel poverty and tens of thousands more expected to join them, Age UK is concerned that pensioners may be forced to cut back on heating to save money.

Age UK says that rising inflation and escalating prices are now threatening the health and the standard of living of many pensioners on low incomes, while adding that many older people are already experiencing stress and anxiety over how they will stay warm this winter.

The charity adds that cold homes can be dangerous for older people, especially those with pre-existing health conditions, and increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, serious lung conditions and arthritis.

Extra support such as Cold Weather Payments and the Warm Home Discount Scheme are vital for those on a low income, yet these schemes all-to-often fail to reach many of those who need them the most because they are not claiming Pension Credit.

Pension Credit is known as a ‘passport benefit’, because it opens the door to this kind of support and many other benefits, but an estimated 920,000 pensioner households are not claiming this lifeline benefit.

Age UK is calling on the UK government to:

  • Provide a one-off £50 payment to all those eligible for Cold Weather Payments and expedite existing payments so they arrive no later than seven days after a period of cold weather.
  • Double the Household Support Fund to £1billion to help safeguard all those on low incomes this winter.
  • Take urgent action to get Pension Credit – a vital benefit and passport to a package of extra financial support – into the pockets of all those who are eligible.
  • Ensure the energy price cap is enshrined in law in the shorter term, and then move to re-introduce a social tariff into the energy market to offer protection against high energy costs in the medium term.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “There’s no doubt that media reports about rising energy bills are filling pensioners on low fixed incomes with absolute dread.

“More than twenty-five thousand people have told us how worried they are, and it is clear that as things stand, some fully expect to have to choose between cutting down on food or turning down their heating, once the cold weather sets in.

“Doing either is a potential risk to their health, especially if they are living with serious underlying health conditions like heart disease or COPD.

“At Age UK our greatest concern is that some older people will not even try to keep their homes adequately warm this winter, for fear of incurring big bills they cannot afford to pay.

“Many older people are brilliant at making a small budget go a long way, but that’s unlikely to be enough to protect them from the impact of rising household bills and soaring energy costs this time round.

“New Age UK analysis suggests that another 150,000 older households could be dragged into fuel poverty by the spring, unless the Government acts now to provide those at greatest risk with more financial support.

“We are calling for a package of measures to be brought in immediately, targeted at the older people who need extra help the most.

“The package should include a £50 grant to those eligible for Cold Weather payment, and a big boost to the Household Support Fund that councils distribute to tackle fuel poverty in their areas.

“We are also calling for a renewed push to get more older people to claim the Pension Credit they are due.

“We must do everything possible to safeguard the health and wellbeing of pensioners on low fixed incomes.

“The energy price cap offers valuable protection against prices going through the roof, and the Government should move quickly to enshrine it in law, but Ministers have to go further to give the poorest pensioners the confidence to keep their heating turned up high enough when temperatures are cold.

“Above all, we must ensure that turmoil in the wholesale energy market does not translate into tragedy for any older person this winter.

“In most years it would be hyperbole to suggest there was a risk of older people freezing to death in their own homes, but the risk cannot be completely discounted this year. That’s why we need Government action to ensure every older person comes through safe and well.”

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