More elderly will die this year in cold, says charity
Northern Ireland could be faced with an increase in the number of winter-related deaths if temperatures continue to plummet, a leading charity has warned.
Age Sector Platform fears many older people — who are already struggling to pay their winter fuel bills — will not be able to afford to heat their homes because of the early onset of the below freezing conditions.
Over the past few days Northern Ireland has experienced the lowest temperatures on record with some places recording minus 9.5 degrees.
Anne Watson, who has been a volunteer with the body for the past five years, explained if the mercury continued to drop — as it has been forecast — there would be an increase in heating demands forcing many older people to make some drastic choices.
Currently, people aged over 60 receive £250 towards their winter fuel costs while people over 80 receive £400.
While Ms Watson acknowledges the amount is a lot of money, she explained it barely covered the cost to fill a tank of oil.
“When you look at the weather that we have had in the last few days, it’s absolutely ridiculous to think that this is only the start of winter,” she said. “I personally have had to have my heating on all day because I haven’t been able to get out.
“The current winter fuel allowance is £250 for people over 60 and £400 for over 80. But £250 wouldn’t get you a fill of oil. It’s just crazy. My daughter recently paid £403 for 900 litres of oil. Now 900 litres of oil at yesterday’s temperature wouldn’t do you from now until Christmas.
“Personally, I don’t mind staying in a day, but when you are housebound and you have no choice, like so many of our older people, that’s a whole different ball game.”
Ms Watson explained last winter 756 people aged over 65 died due to the winter weather.
If conditions continue as they are, she fears that number would rise this year.
“The 2009/10 winter did not start as early as it has this year. If it continues I dread to think how many winter deaths we will have which could be avoided,” she said.
She explained unless our politicians realistically addressed fuel poverty, Northern Ireland could be faced with more winter-related deaths.
The lobby group wants the winter fuel payment to be increased to £500 as well as ensure that pension credit is automatically paid for a period of three months.
They also want an emergency trust fund to be established this winter.
“I was in the Abbey Centre one day and I saw two old people having a packed lunch. A friend of their’s was going by and because I was so astounded I stopped and asked what they were doing and she said they come here and bring a lunch with them so they don’t have to put their heating on,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.
“I think the Government needs to look realistically at the cost of living. £97 a week on the pension is not enough. I would like to see a couple of the MPs trying to live on that for four weeks.
“They would not be living in the style as they are living today, that’s for sure.”