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

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The influx of hundreds of thousands of eastern European workers has significantly altered the composition of some parts of Britain  

Immigration is the issue many in Labour fear most

Nigel Morris
The Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf heads the inquiry  

Why should Fiona Woolf be expected to remember every dinner date?

Mark Steel
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?