Author: Age NI
Published on 28 October 2010 09:30 AM
Shameful new figures show that almost two thirds of older people in Northern Ireland are being left to freeze because they cannot afford to heat their homes. 61.5% are living in fuel poverty an increase of almost 15% since 2006.
Equally alarming is the increase from 62% to more than 83% of older people living alone who are experiencing fuel poverty. Age NI, the new charity combining Age Concern NI and Help the Aged in Northern Ireland believes this is Groundhog Day for older people as they continue to struggle to keep warm without the necessary support year after year after year.
Anne O’Reilly, Age NI Chief Executive commented, 'These statistics show that fuel poverty has reached crisis levels. It is shameful that in 2010 the number of older people struggling to keep warm is not only increasing, but doing so at a frightening rate. In 2008, Age NI warned our political leaders that older people were in the impossible position of having to choose between eating and heating their homes. In two years, nothing has changed for the better.
Anne continued, 'Age NI is making an urgent plea to NI’s political leaders to escalate the Fuel Poverty Strategy to Executive level so that immediate steps can be taken to find solutions. While we are relieved that the Winter Fuel and Cold Weather Payments for older people have been protected within the UK Spending Review this year, this sticking plaster approach is leading us into a ‘groundhog day’ situation where those most at-risk in Northern Ireland continue to suffer and die every year. The number of excess winter deaths has doubled since the launch of the Fuel Poverty Strategy in 2004. A long term solution is urgently required to address the needs of older people today, and in the future. For every £1 invested in fuel poverty, 42p is recouped through NHS saving. Ministers must act with the knowledge that an investment to save now will ensure long term solutions.
'Automatic payment of benefits has the potential to significantly impact on the issue of poverty and improve the lives of people in later life. Despite government efforts to implement benefit uptake initiatives, an estimated £1.2m - £2.3m of Pension Credit is being left unclaimed in Northern Ireland, money that could be used to alleviate fuel poverty and positively impact on the NI economy. Recent figures also indicate that fuel poverty is almost three times higher in NI than in the UK where social tariffs are already in place. Older people in Northern Ireland are not being afforded the same level of protection as their GB counterparts but the introduction of social tariffs here could make a vital difference.'