Not enough money coming in, living alone and a reliance on oil heating are the main reasons for older people in Northern Ireland living in fuel poverty, it has emerged.
New research published today reveals that Northern Ireland has a higher proportion of older people compared to the Republic and more of them living by themselves.
The research also found a more significant divide between urban and rural dwellers — with people who live in the countryside especially vulnerable to fuel poverty.
Currently 23% (81,345) of older people are living in fuel poverty which is significantly higher than the 16% in the rest of the UK.
The findings of the study have been released days after the Belfast Telegraph backed a new campaign calling on people to act as Good Samaritans and look out for their vulnerable neighbours.
The Spread the Warmth Campaign has been launched by Age NI encouraging the public to take care of elderly householders ensuring they are warm and well.
The research was carried out by the Dublin Institute of Technology, the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, Centre of Excellence in Public Health in Northern Ireland (CEPHNI) and Brunel University London, and funded by the Centre for Ageing, Research and Development in Ireland.
It found that while older people were more likely to have central heating in both owner-occupied homes and social housing, 7.2% did not have any. This compared to 12.4% in the Republic.
Around three quarters of central heating systems in older people’s homes in Northern Ireland relied on heating oil — more expensive than gas.
Prof Frank Kee, director of CEPHNI, said the report findings highlight the challenges in addressing fuel poverty.
Every year thousands of elderly people have to choose between eating and heating homes they may not be able to leave — and with another Arctic blast on the way, it looks like this Christmas will be just as difficult.
The Winter Fuel Payment has been cut from £400 to £300, although last week the First and deputy First Ministers offered respite to 250,000 of those most in need when they announced a one-off £100 fuel payment.
Institute of Public Health senior policy officer Dr Helen McAvoy welcomed the payment, but said this will only address the problem in the short-term. “Tackling fuel poverty among older people living alone, those over 75 and older people with illness or disability is a challenge for both jurisdictions.”
The Belfast Telegraph has thrown its weight behind the Spread the Warmth campaign — launched by Age NI.
Last year 600 pensioners died as a result of cold related illnesses.
Spreading the Warmth may be as simple as giving a lift to someone, offering a steadying arm on an icy day or cooking an extra dinner for someone who lives alone.