VULNERABLE elderly people and families across the North East are facing a winter of desperation as rising fuel prices and the recession create the perfect storm of rising fuel poverty, a leading charity last night said.
National Energy Action (NEA) says the current situation is “scandalous” and has reached a crisis point, but is calling on people in the North East to help their neighbours by backing the Surviving Winter Campaign which aims to help those in fuel poverty.
The Journal is backing the campaign, which was launched by the Community Foundation and NEA last year and raised £30,000 to help the neediest in the region.
The campaign asks those who can afford it to donate their £200 winter fuel allowance which is given to all pensioners regardless of income.
Last winter three quarters of households went without heating at some point to keep costs down, and the North East saw 900 excess winter deaths.
Most recent estimates show that fuel poverty – where over 10% of household income is spent on fuel costs – affects 5.3 million English households and recent price rises could have pushed an additional 266,000 households into fuel poverty.
Ron Campbell, chief policy adviser of NEA said: “As we approach Christmas, the prospects are anything but festive for tens of thousands of vulnerable households in the region, and the future looks even bleaker. Five of the Big Six energy suppliers have recently introduced higher charges to take effect over the winter period and this will inevitably lead to increased debt, desperation and deprivation.
“To make matters even worse, at a time when energy costs have reached unprecedented levels, the only Government-funded scheme to improve heating and insulation standards for low-income households in England is to close at the end of this financial year.
“Many older people and families with young children currently endure the misery of living in a cold damp environment with potentially-serious consequences for their long-term health and welfare, and this appalling situation can only get worse in the future.
“It is scandalous that in the 21st century, in one of the most affluent countries in the world, people cannot afford such a fundamental entitlement as a warm home.”
Jimmy Wilkie, 83, from Deckham in Gateshead, said: “Unfortunately as people get older they tend to require more heat.
“I have to be cautious about how often I leave the central heating on though. I try to eliminate as many radiators as I can.”
People do not need to be in receipt of the allowance to take part. The wider public are also being asked to reach into their pockets to help those most in need this winter, no matter how big or small their donation.
Former chief probation officer and fair society campaigner Mike Worthington is backing the campaign.
“I’m painfully aware that the austerity measures of this Government are hitting the poorest hardest of all,” said the 70-year-old from Hexham. “As a consequence of that there are a lot of elderly people and families with children who will struggle this winter.
“I never thought in my lifetime I would see food banks or 3.8 million children living in poverty in this country. It’s just a bad situation getting worse.”