Have this week's events brought good news or bad for older people?
By Rebecca Law, Media and PR Officer
Andrew Lansley this week announced a new cross government initiative - The Cold Weather Plan - to help keep people warm and healthy throughout the winter months. The plans will see the government make an extra £10million available to support existing government schemes for those at risk of fuel poverty. On the surface, this sounds great, but put bluntly, the figure is like a snowflake in a blizzard.
If the extra £10million promised by the government were divided equally between all older people in the UK, it would equate to 99p per person, or £2.50 if distributed just to our poorer pensioners.
If the £10million were used to support Warm Front, it could help around 5,000 low income households with improvements to heating and insulation (usually worth up to £3,500). So it's a good week for the lucky 5,000 who would qualify, but a bad week for the millions of other people who would remain left out in the cold.
Our own experiences, from the people we support, have shown that while responsive with processing applications, completion of Warm Front work can take upwards of four or five months, which will be of little - or no - help to older people struggling with higher energy prices and poorly insulated homes this winter.
The proposed measures (which you can read more about here) do nothing to address rising energy costs. There were 27,000 excess winter deaths last year, a tenth of which, according to the Hills Fuel Poverty Review, were expected to have been as a direct result of fuel poverty. And with energy prices up by 18% since then, and today's news that more than 400,000 over-70 households are currently in severe financial difficulties, it looks like we're headed away from the frying pan and into the fire. Age UK have already predicted that 200 older people could die each day this coming winter because they can't afford to heat their homes.
And while Mr Lansley was happy to announce these new cold weather measures this week, there was again, neatly, no mention of the fact that while the average annual fuel bill has gone up by £100, the Government has quietly reduced the Winter Fuel Payment by, wait for it... £100 (that's for the over-80s - it's been reduced by £50 for pensioners under 80). There is also no mention that the eligibility criteria for the Warm Front Grant has been tightened, and it's doubtful that this extra £10million promised by Lansley will bridge the gap created by these changes.
People who are worried about paying their fuel bills this winter will, for now, be breathing a sigh of relief - and not through any government action but through the mere fact that chance has delivered us one of the mildest Octobers on record. When the cold does finally decide to bite (and it will if this week's reports of a predicted "Siberian freeze" are to be believed) despite these positive moves, this could still be a winter of discontent for many.