Winter death fears as government help for old and vulnerable is cut

A SCHEME to help vulnerable elderly people heat their homes this winter has been axed despite fears of further fuel price rises.

The Warm Homes, Healthy People fund was described by Age UK as an “extremely necessary resource” which helped thousands of at risk pensioners last year.

However the Government has quietly dropped the £20million scheme because local authorities have taken the lead over public health spending in England and Wales.
The move comes as a Sunday Express investigation reveals average dual fuel bills have risen by 22 per cent since the Coalition came to power in 2010.
Despite David Cameron’s pledge to take on the “Big Six” energy companies, homeowners with dual fuel bills are shelling out £249 more, bringing total annual charges to £1,353.

Since January 2010 average gas bills have risen by £131 to £799 and average electricity bills were up by £105 to £540 in January this year.
Ann Robinson, uSwitch director of consumer policy, said: “The cost of heating has reached unprecedented levels today and almost seven in 10 households (69 per cent) went without heating at some point last winter to keep their energy costs down.

“Rumours of imminent price rises refuse to go away at the moment, which will be a big concern to many, especially with winter on the way.

“There is no obvious justification for putting prices up as wholesale costs remain flat. If companies do decide to increase prices this winter then they owe it to customers to explain chapter and verse why this is happening. But I suspect there would be little sympathy from consumers.”

In a written parliamentary answer, Health Minister Anna Soubry confirmed the Warm Homes initiative would not be repeated in 2013.
Instead, she said, local councils would determine their priorities after being put in control for the first time of the £5billion public health budget.

“In setting their priorities local authorities must take into account the Public Health Outcomes Framework, which has excess winter deaths as an indicator,” she said.
However, Age UK warned last night there was “little evidence” of town halls preparing a major strategy to help vulnerable homeowners combat fuel poverty.
In the eight weeks from mid-January this year excess winter deaths rose 6,500 above the five-year average. Campaigners fear another brutal cold snap this year could see a further spike in lives lost as pensioners are forced to choose between eating or heating their homes.

Last winter the Warm Homes, Healthy People initiative provided funding for 149 schemes.
Age UK Coventry used the funds to staff phones so isolated pensioners could be checked on regularly.

In extremely cold spells Age UK North Staffordshire used its grant to staff an emergency shopping service for pensioners who could not get out to the supermarket.

Age UK Bedfordshire bought stocks of emergency food parcels.

In Cambridgeshire electric blankets were tested and faulty ones replaced free of charge while in Gloucestershire, home visits were made to help pensioners switch to the lowest fuel tariff Mervyn Kohler, special adviser at Age UK, said the fund had also helped forge new partnerships and attract new volunteers.

“It really was an exciting programme. It was not a great amount of money but it inspired a lot of action and a lot of collaboration between agencies,”
he said. “It got a lot of bang for its buck and it is a pity it is not being continued.”




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