Leading article: The chilling price of the great energy rip-off

It is a moral imperative to alleviate fuel poverty among the elderly

Share
Related Topics

It was a bitter winter for the elderly last year. Figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics show that some 36,700 more people (many of them pensioners) died in England and Wales than would normally be expected. This was a 49 per cent increase on the "excess deaths" registered in the winter before.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health pointed out yesterday that "the causes of excess winter deaths are very complex". This is clearly true. It is extremely rare for someone to freeze to death these days. People tend to die from respiratory illness, which might, or might not, have been brought on by seasonal cold weather.

Nevertheless to give the impression that these deaths are some sort of mysterious phenomenon is disingenuous. There are strong grounds for linking this spike, in large part, to rising fuel poverty among pensioners.

Last winter's increase in deaths coincided with a period when energy prices were elevated. And polls have repeatedly shown that, when fuel prices rise, elderly people with limited means respond by heating their homes less than is healthy, which heightens the chances of them falling ill.

One thing these statistics emphasise is the need for the Government to step up efforts to insulate the national housing stock, especially older homes, through its Warm Front programme. An energy efficiency drive will not only help the elderly keep warm in winter, but also reduce national carbon emissions. Cuts in public spending are inevitable in the medium term, but this is one area in which it would make no strategic sense for a government, of any political stripe, to seek savings.

Another imperative is to strengthen the Winter Fuel Allowance, the Government's programme for subsidising pensioners to heat their homes in the colder months. The Government deserves credit for what it has achieved in this area in the past decade. In the cold winters of the late 1990s, excess deaths peaked at around 50,000 a year.

The reduction in winter mortality among the elderly since then is, in large part, thanks to the Winter Fuel Allowance. But many elderly people in Britain still do not take advantage of this benefit. More official effort needs to be given to making the public aware of it and to help the elderly access it.

But pensioner fuel poverty is a problem that needs to be attacked from every angle. As this newspaper's "great energy rip-off" campaign of recent months has made clear, the six dominant energy suppliers have kept their retail energy prices well above the level they would be if the market was functioning properly. Significant falls in the wholesale price of oil and gas have not been passed on to households.

For the comfortably off among us, this profiteering by the energy companies means the inconvenience of higher bills. But, as we have seen, it is also helping to push the most vulnerable in our society to take life-threatening risks. With energy prices still elevated, the number of excess deaths this winter could well be high once again.

In the end, this is a moral issue. It should be morally unacceptable in an affluent society such as Britain for elderly people to die because they cannot afford to heat their homes properly. Their plight demands action in several areas. But it is also one more powerful reason why the great energy rip-off must end.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Property Inspection Inventory Clerk

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a fast growing in...

Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV & HGV Mechanics

£29000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV Mechanics & HGV mechani...

Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Caroline Lucas from the Green Party with anti-fracking campaigners outside Parliament this week.  

Fracking can improve our energy security, create jobs and support the development of renewables

Corin Taylor
Anti-fracking activists near a proposed site at Westby, near Blackpool  

10 things you need to know about fracking – the case against

Donna Hume
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee