Keeping warm, whatever the price, whatever the weather

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I am beginning to think that winter is never going to end. By now we should have mild March breezes, sunshine and showers – and daffodils. But instead we’re facing icy winds from the East and 10-foot snowdrifts.

But of course, that’s the British weather. With all our technology, we can just about predict it, but we certainly can’t control it.

At the end of a long cold winter, we are also facing steeply-rising energy prices. The Office for Budget Responsibility this week predicted a 7% rise in energy costs this year, and a 3% rise next year. Continue reading “Keeping warm, whatever the price, whatever the weather”

Budget 2013: did the Chancellor deliver for older people?

Following statements from the Chancellor prior to the budget, it seemed that older people were due to benefit from significant changes to the future funding structures of social care and pensions. However, following the Chancellor’s statement there is little new to celebrate.

The main point of interest for pensioners was confirmation that the implementation of the cap on social care costs (the ‘Dilnot’ reforms) and the introduction of the single-tier state pension will both be brought forward to 2016-17. From April 2016, there will be a cap of £72,000 on the costs of care, and the upper threshold limit for the residential care means test will be increased to £118,000.

440x210_pound-coinsWhilst we welcome the earlier implementation of the care costs cap and the higher upper means test threshold from April 2016, this will do nothing to help the 800,000 older people who need help with everyday tasks but receive no formal state support. Since 2010/11, in real terms £700 million has been cut from local authority spending on social care. Although the Government has provided additional investment for social care over the course of this parliament, it has not been enough to halt the downwards spiral in care funding. As a result, 85 per cent of local authorities now provide care only to people with substantial or critical needs.
Continue reading “Budget 2013: did the Chancellor deliver for older people?”

Green Deal officially launched

The avowed ambition of the Green Deal is to offer everyone the opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of their home at no up-front cost, so enabling them to make it warmer and cheaper to run.   Given that a third of our general housing stock is occupied by older households, Age UK obviously supports any initiative which will improve the quality and energy efficiency of our homes.   That is particularly important because with the introduction of the Green Deal, all the existing programmes which have operated in this field in the past, such as Warm Front and the insulation programme CERT run by the energy companies, are now closed.

The design of the Green Deal invites the householder to call the Energy Saving Advice Service (on 0300 123 1234) to find a Green Deal Provider – a private sector company accredited and monitored by the Government. This Provider will then arrange for an Assessor to visit, and identify the relevant steps which could be taken (such as insulation, new boiler, radiator valves etc). The  220x220_woman_adjusting_thermostatrecommended work must meet the ‘golden rule’ that the cost of getting this work done would reduce the household’s spending on energy by a greater amount – so saving the householder money. A Green Deal Plan will then be prepared for the householder to agree to, an authorised Installer would then arrive to do the work, and a repayment plan will be devised which will be added to (the now reduced) electricity bill for an agreed period. In effect, the loan is a debt on the energy meter, not on the householder, and gets passed on if the house is bought and sold. Continue reading “Green Deal officially launched”

Why we need an Energy Bill Revolution

With the longest cold snap of the winter still underway, and snow covering much of the country, what can be done to protect older people from the cold?

As we get older, we become more vulnerable to the effects of cold. If you have read previous Age UK blogs, you’ll be familiar with the statistics: around 25,000 additional deaths each winter compared to the rest of the year in England and Wales, the majority of which are older people.

For every one degree the average winter temperature drops below 18 degrees C, there are 8,000 additional winter deaths. Following a cold snap in a British winter, there is a predictable pattern: a peak of deaths due to heart attacks two days later, a peak of strokes five days later, and a peak of deaths due to breathing problems twelve days later.

It’s simple, and devastating, and something which we should all be shouting about.

At Age UK we’re helping to make people aware of the health risks of cold and the simple steps – like keeping bedroom windows closed at night – that older people can take to protect their health.

Photo: Ell Brown (Creative Commons)
Photo: Ell Brown (Creative Commons)

But the bottom line is that many older people simply cannot afford to keep their home warm enough. Age UK estimates that around 6 million older people are currently living in fuel poverty (in other words, they would have to spend more than 10% of their income in order to heat their homes adequately). Increasing fuel prices this winter mean this situation is set to get worse. Continue reading “Why we need an Energy Bill Revolution”

The Cost of Cold

“When I was young, being cold wasn’t an issue, it never occurred to me it could be a problem. But as I’ve got older staying warm has become my priority. Being older, and less active, it’s so hard to ward off the cold.” Dreda, 94

Winter brings many challenges for us as we get older – dark days mean people get out less, and ice and snow can increase the fear and risk of falling. But research shows that cold is the biggest killer.

Today, Age UK is releasing a new report ‘The Cost of Cold’. It highlights the fact that each winter there are around 27,000 additional deaths in England and Wales, the vast majority among older people.

For each death, there are many more people who become seriously ill, needing hospitalisation in the short term and possibly social care in the longer term. Age UK’s new analysis finds that the cost to the NHS in England from cold homes alone is likely to be around £1.36 billion a year.

Every death or serious illness is a personal tragedy for the individual and family involved – and these deaths are largely preventable. Other colder countries such as Finland have significantly lower death rates, due to better insulated homes and greater awareness of the need to keep warm.

Through our Spread the Warmth campaign, we are highlighting simple steps that older people can take to keep warm and protect their own health, such as keeping their bedroom windows closed at night, or covering their face and hands when out in the cold. Thanks to our partnership with the Met Office we are able to pass on the Cold Weather alerts to older people via our local Age UK partners throughout the winter. Continue reading “The Cost of Cold”