Tuesday 22 August 2017

Elderly sacrificing food to pay winter heat bills

Eilish O'Regan and Allison Bray

MORE than half of elderly people have cut their spend on food and clothing in order to heat their homes, according to a new report, but Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte says fuel poverty is not as bad as the study suggests.

He was commenting after an in-depth survey of 722 older people found that 60pc were worried they would be unable to heat their homes this winter.

One of the elderly people said said: "On top of my bedclothes I wear two jackets in bed and I cover my head and ears. I wear a cap and socks in bed."

Another complained that the air vents in each room of his house only added to the problem. "You could be blown out of the bed it is so bad. Where did this idea come from? Why build a house and then put vents in it to blow you out of it?"

But the minister said those studied were hand-picked and did not represent the extent of fuel poverty in the wider community.

"The authors acknowledge that the respondents have been identified by community organisations," he said.

The findings clashed "dramatically" with figures from the Central Statistics Office, he insisted.

He acknowledged that "of course" there was poverty in our society -- some 6.5pc of people live in consistent poverty, according to the most recent CSO report.

But he ruled out the government backtracking on its Budget plan to reduce the home heating benefit for long-term social welfare recipients.

"Forty per cent of the entire Budget goes to social welfare," he said.

The Labour minister said that the new policy of only providing a fuel allowance for 26 weeks of the year "compares favourably with any other country in Western Europe".

"Six months in Irish weather conditions isn't bad," he said, before adding that "our pension supports for older people are the best in Western Europe".

He was speaking at the launch of the fuel poverty survey, which was carried out among elderly people primarily living in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Cavan.

Helen McAvoy, a senior policy officer with the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, acknowledged the survey wasn't a representative sample of the population. But she said the findings "give us a very real window" into the lives of the elderly.

Vulnerable

She said the research revealed a dual burden for older people, who are more likely to experience fuel poverty and are also vulnerable to considerable health and social harm as a result of this experience.

Eamon Timmins, of Age Action, said the report "reflects the reality for a minority of people, but for them it is a life and death issue".

The respondents in the survey overwhelmingly (73pc) lived alone in their own homes or in rented accommodation through their local housing authorities.

The 'Fuel Poverty, Older People and Cold Weather' study found almost a quarter (24pc) said they felt their homes were too cold. Meanwhile, 8pc said they resorted to using their ovens to get adequate heat.

The majority (75pc) reported suffering from long-term health problems, of which more than half (54pc) said their conditions were aggravated by cold homes.

Irish Independent

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