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: Digital Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for someone wi...

Recruitment Genius: Building Manager / Head Porter

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Medical Copywriter / Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Clerk / Debriefer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading temperature contro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the Labour leadership election hasn’t yet got to grips with why the party lost

John Rentoul
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific