Concern grows for older people in Wales as energy bills soar

Poverty Fuel poverty
Image by Katrina_S from Pixabay
ViewsApril 1st, 2022

In a guest post, Jo Harry from Care & Repair Cymru, warns that soaring energy prices will hit older people hardest, yet little is being done about it.

The cost of living is skyrocketing. On 23rd March 2022, Rishi Sunak echoed the OBRs warning that inflation is set to rise to a 40 year high of 8.7% by autumn 2022.   On 1 April 2022 all UK energy suppliers will increase their prices to the maximum the OFGEM energy price cap allows. This will see an astonishing increase of 54% in the cost of energy. For those customers who are nearing the end of their fixed rate tariff, the increases will be even higher.

This will have a devastating impact on older people, who are already disproportionately affected by fuel poverty. We know that dementia, illnesses associated with falls such as arthritis and osteoarthritis, and respiratory conditions are exacerbated by the cold. We know that 75% of excess winter deaths in Wales are in people over 75. At Care & Repair, we know that people today feel forced to choose cold homes over warmth.

I manage our 70+ Cymru home energy project. We are driven by a commitment to tackle the negative impact that high costs of energy have on our clients. Fuel poverty is ubiquitous; it is fatal, and it is on the increase. That’s why, right across Wales, the 70+ Cymru team works with people aged 60 or over who rent their home from private landlords or who are owner occupiers. We can visit people at home and give advice, we maximise people’s income, we help navigate difficult energy bills and complicated tariffs, we give practical support and we arrange for measures and installations to improve a home’s energy efficiency.

70+ Cymru began delivering services in February 2021, almost one year after lockdown and subsequent covid restrictions began in March 2020. Even in the early days of 70+ Cymru, the team noticed that many clients had significantly changed the way they used their homes since restrictions began. In 2021 many clients continued to spend longer at home than before the pandemic, they were isolated from community and services, they became less mobile and they were colder at home than before.

Clients Affected by Fuel Debt

Over this last, reasonably mild, winter (2021/2022) the choices our clients have faced have been starker than ever. Affected by existing fuel debt, or by worries of huge energy bills and impending fuel debt, we see clients choosing to heat and use only one room in their home. We meet older people who habitually wear extra layers of clothing rather than put their heating on. We meet people who choose to stay in bed under their duvet rather than put their heating on. We have helped a client who chose to buy and use battery operated fairy lights to save on electricity bills.

Yesterday we helped an older woman, worried by her limited income, to make sense of her dual fuel direct debit increase from £60 to £140 per calendar month. This morning we were approached by a Citizens Advice Bureau to help an older man who cannot afford to fill his oil tank, meaning he cannot heat his home or access hot water.

We regularly support older people whose low, but not-quite-low-enough, income sets them just above eligibility thresholds for schemes and benefits that could otherwise change their lives for the better. These issues are real and are happening right here in Wales, right now.

Welsh Government and the Winter Fuel Support Scheme

In November 2021 Welsh Government increased its Winter Fuel Support Scheme payment from £100 to £200. However, over the winter of 2021/2022, older people in receipt of pension credit were excluded from the scheme. Many older people in desperate need of help could not benefit where many others could. We were exceptionally disappointed and surprised that older people in need were disadvantaged because of this decision.

Welsh Government listened to many critical voices, and we welcomed the announcement of an extension of next year’s Winter Fuel Support Scheme to include older people who receive Pension Credit. This inclusion will make the scheme fairer, but we are disappointed that it is too late to retrospectively help many older people in today’s troubling economic climate. We do not want to see older people get left further behind and we support the Older People’s Commissioner in Wales’ call to implement a 5-point action plan. At Care & Repair Cymru, we agree that failure to do so will risk the “health and well-being of tens of thousands of older people on the lowest incomes, who may be particularly vulnerable and least able to deal with spiralling living costs… something that quite simply is not acceptable.”3

Welsh Government must make tough calls on the next iteration of its Warm Homes Programme. There is real urgency for Welsh Government to ensure that the next version of the programme helps households living in the severest fuel poverty first. The programme must encompass measures to improve thermal efficiency and tackle fuel poverty in synergy, not in silos. The programme needs to take a ‘whole household’, and not merely a ‘whole house’ approach to maximise its capacity to lift as many people out of fuel poverty as possible.

70+ Cymru in 2022

Every day, the 70+ Cymru team is increasing their specialist skills and knowledge of fuel poverty and energy efficiency, particularly for older and traditional buildings. We are determined to address the inequities of fuel poverty, but we witness older people in crisis daily. This year, every single one of us will experience huge increases in energy costs and we know that the situation will worsen before it gets better. Our 70+ Cymru Home Energy Officers are doing everything they can to help older people improve their independence and quality of life.

I cannot stop asking, ‘how have we come to this’? Such hardship is difficult to swallow in 2022.

You can read more about Care and Repair Cymru here and more about 70+ Cymru here

One Response

  1. John Harper says:

    Wales has some of the oldest stock in Europe and probably the least energy efficient

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