Age Scotland: “Turn up the heat this winter to save lives and protect our NHS and social care”
Published on 25 November 2021 08:40 AM
The national charity for older people is calling on the Scottish Government to give pensioners in poverty and low income an extra £50 to help with the cost of heating their homes this winter.
Age Scotland estimate that the payment would directly help more than 130,000 pensioners at a cost of £6.65 million, and would be a preventative spend to relieve the incredible pressure being faced by the NHS and social care this winter.
The proposal is backed by Citizens Advice Scotland, Energy Action Scotland, the Scottish Older People’s Assembly, About Dementia, the Stroke Association, and Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland.
In a letter to the First Minister, Age Scotland urged the Scottish Government to introduce this new payment to help ensure pensioners in poverty or on low and fixed incomes have enough money to meet the increasing cost of heating their homes to a safe level.
The charity says this one-off payment would be a vital boost, making a significant difference to the wellbeing of older people on the lowest income during this challenging winter period brought on by rapidly rising energy prices, cost of living and inflation.
With NHS and social care services under unprecedented strain, Age Scotland believes that keeping people out of hospital by preventing illnesses should be a focus of the Scottish Government, and the introduction of this one-off preventative payment of £50 has the potential to save the NHS millions of pounds and reduce capacity this winter.
On average, it costs more than £8,000 to treat a patient in hospital when admitted in an emergency*. This does not include extra costs which might be incurred by health and social care after discharge to support the patient with their recovery and may need further interventions because of deconditioning associated with their hospital stay. The charity believes that if this payment helps 831 people avoid needing hospital treatment for conditions linked to the cold, then the measure would pay for itself.
Age Scotland’s Chief Executive, Brian Sloan, said:
“With temperatures dropping, older people on the lowest incomes desperately need reassurance that they can turn their heating up when it’s cold without the fear of being unable to afford the extra cost.
“An extra £50 could make all the difference to older people usually forced to tighten their belts to make it through the colder months.
“This one-off payment would not only offer much-needed peace of mind when it comes to energy bills, but ensuring older people can keep their homes warm through winter is also a strong preventative measure against respiratory illnesses, stroke and heart attack.
“This winter, Scotland’s health and social care services face unprecedented challenges coping with demand and staff shortages. It is clear that further action is needed to protect the NHS and save lives, and we believe this modest investment, which could prevent ill health and the number of people requiring medical treatment, is one worth taking.”
Derek Mitchell, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, said:
“People are facing a perfect storm this winter due to rising energy bills, higher prices in the shops, and the broader problems in the energy market, so we support this proposal from Age Scotland to ensure some protection for older people this winter.
“Making the payment direct as opposed to asking people to apply is also a worthwhile way to deliver this support, as we know older people may face barriers around digital exclusion.
“Ultimately, keeping people warm will also reduce the strain on the health service. The Citizens Advice network in Scotland does lots of work around maximising people’s incomes and we know people avoid associated health problems when they don’t have to choose between paying their energy bills and buying food.”
Frazer Scott, Chief Executive of Energy Action Scotland said:
“Fuel poverty affects over 1 in 4 households in Scotland. Older households are even more likely to be in fuel poverty. They need to heat their homes at higher temperatures and for longer to maintain their health and wellbeing. Energy prices are impacting older people right now and that looks set to continue over the next year.
“More help is needed to reduce GP visits, hospital admission and deaths this winter. Incomes are unable to match rising inflation and rocketing energy costs. A one-off payment of £50 to those older people on the lowest incomes will help to save lives. A small price to pay.“
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Notes to editors:
- *Figure based on 2017/18 figures for the average stay for emergency admissions of 6.8 days and the 2017/18 average daily cost of hospital services and treatment at £1,190.
- Read Age Scotland’s letter to the First Minister.
- Read Age Scotland’s briefing on this proposal.
- In 2017/18, 108,822 people were admitted to hospital in Scotland with diseases of the respiratory system.
- There are 150,000 pensioners in Scotland living in poverty, and approximately 218,000 older households in fuel poverty, with a further 116,000 living in extreme fuel poverty.
- The Age Scotland Big Survey highlighted that more than a fifth of over 50s in Scotland felt financially squeezed, with 8 in 10 of them identifying energy bills as the main cause.
- On average, energy prices have risen by 12% since the energy price cap in October, and it is estimated they will increase by at least the same amount again before the Spring. This impacts people on the Standard Variable Tariff, of which there will be around 1 million homes in Scotland in this position.
- A recent report by the Buildings Research Establishment looked at the cost of poor housing to the NHS in England. It found that the highest cost to the NHS, at around £857 million, is spent on treating people made ill by excessively cold homes. Dampness was the third highest household hazard at £38 million.