THE annual Surviving Winter campaign – which asks better-off pensioners to donate their £200 winter fuel allowance to help those in fuel poverty – is now halfway towards its £30,000 target.
So far generous Journal readers have helped raise £15,000 since we highlighted how vulnerable elderly people and families across the North East are facing a winter of desperation.
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. Charity National Energy Action (NEA) has warned that rising fuel prices and the recession are pushing more people into fuel poverty, where over 10% of household income is spent on fuel costs.
Household energy bills have more than doubled since 2004, with the average now standing at £1,334 a year, according to price comparison website uSwitch, and Ofgem has predicted bills will increase between 14% and 25% by 2020 to fund investment in new lower-carbon forms of energy.
More and more local people are feeling the pinch, such as retired bricklayer George Sherman. The 78-year-old widower, who has three adult children, spends a lot of time at his rented house in Chirton, North Tyneside, due to ill health and pays around £160 a month on energy bills.
“I’m in the house 90% of the time so my bills are quite high, but I’m not going to sit here freezing,” said George, who has arthritis and only one kidney. “I make sure I pay the gas, electric and rent and what’s left after that is my own. There’s no drink, no cigarettes and no holidays. I can only afford to go out once a week or I sometimes go on my scooter down to the allotment.”
Although he received free insulation via the Government’s Warm Front programme, the scheme will be axed in March so others won’t be so lucky.
“I’ve worked all my life so I have a bit of a private pension, but other people who haven’t must really be struggling,” he said. “For the majority of pensioners I see at the weekend, it’s pretty rough for them.”
One of the many backers of the Surviving Winter campaign is retired banker Reginald Peter Gordon from Gosforth who also donated his winter fuel allowance last year.
“My first reaction was I don’t need it so I was looking around for somewhere to give it,” said Reginald, 87. “I thought the motives of the campaign were just the right ones. For those relying on the state pension it must be particularly difficult.”