AFFLUENT RECIPIENTS of emergency winter fuel payments are being urged to donate the government grant to charity so it can be redistributed to the most vulnerable, as it was revealed that nearly 1,000 winter deaths have been recorded in one area of the region alone in the last two years.
Cold homes kill, charity leaders warned, with 971 lives lost during the bleak winter weather since 2012 in North Yorkshire, reports North East Energy Action (NEA).
And it is families with children and other working age households who are most blighted by fuel poverty - consisting of 70 per cent of those who face prioritising eating or heating during the coldest months of the year.
Fuel poverty is also compounding the conditions of those who are already living in hardship. Thirty-four per cent of people in fuel poverty have a disability or long-term illness, some of whom are unable to work.
As well as a high mortality rate, fuel poverty is linked to depression and social isolation.
According to NEA, the cost of winter emergency admissions for respiratory conditions to the North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust was £2.4 million in 2010/11.
It estimates that there are 26,229 homes living below the “warmth breadline” across Yorkshire.
Maria Wardrobe, NEA’s director of external affairs, said: “For each winter death there are an estimated eight emergency hospital admissions each winter. Much of this illness is both largely predictable and preventable and would save the NHS millions each year in treatment costs.
“Living in a cold home significantly increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Cold lowers resistance to respiratory infections and exacerbates asthma. But the cold also has a significant impact on mental wellbeing, we hear from people who tell us of anxiety, depression and just not wanting to wake up in the morning to face another day. This is the stark reality for those living in cold and damp housing.”
Despite schemes to redistribute Winter Fuel Payments, the NEA does not believe the way it is given out by the Government should be changed.
“We would still like it retained and not means tested for older people. We know that means testing payments usually means that a significant proportion of people won’t claim them. One in three people eligible for Pension Credit for example don’t claim it. If affluent people don’t need it then donate to initiatives like the Community Foundation or indeed NEA ourselves and we will ensure it is used to assist those who struggle to pay their energy bills.
“We also call on Government to extend the payment to other fuel poor households such as families with children who currently receive no help at all.”
To alleviate the worst cases of fuel poverty the York-based charity, Two Ridings Community Foundation, is encouraging more affluent people who do not need their £200 winter fuel allowance to donate it to them so that it can be used to help those in most dire need.
The charity is seeking charitable partners to help direct the funds through its Surviving Winter campaign to people who need help urgently, having already teamed up with the British Red Cross, Ryedale Citizens Advice and Age UK.
Jan Garritt, chief executive of Two Ridings Community Foundation, said: “It’s a crying shame that issues like fuel poverty are affecting so many people, with 971 excess winter deaths in North Yorkshire in the last two years. It is shocking that so many people are suffering from fuel poverty.Through our work with local charities, we aim to provide relief for those living in fuel poverty in the community. Two Ridings is working with charities to help people alleviate the misery and ill health fuel poverty can cause.”
Fuel poverty is particularly acute for those living in the countryside, warned Rural Action Yorkshire.
Leah Swain, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The problem is worse in rural areas because there are a higher number of rural properties off the gas network and it is more expensive to run your heating off oil. Rural houses are often harder to isolate and cold houses can lead to health problems and high mortality rates.”
Thirsk and Malton Tory MP Anne McIntosh said she kept a watchful eye on the issue as rural homes often faced higher energy costs but described calls to donate winter fuel payments to charity as a “gimmick”.
She said the Government was already taking action to target more help on the vulnerable through the £140 warm home discount scheme for some two million households, although there was scope for further work to expand help for rural homes who are not connected to the gas grid. “We are discriminated against in rural areas because we are off-grid,” she said.