Thursday 6 November 2008
A research report released today, revealing that older people in Northern Ireland are severely worried about how they will cope with the recent hike in the cost of living, has prompted the age sector to launch a new BT Winter Warmth Hotline.
The research, which was commissioned by Age Sector Platform, Help the Aged and Age Concern NI as part of their ‘Can’t Heat or Eat’ campaign, found that older people in Northern Ireland are planning on reducing their energy bills by cutting back on essential heating and electricity. Nearly two in five (39%) people aged 50 and over claimed that they are planning to cut back on heating their homes as a result of current financial circumstances, with one in three (33%) planning on cutting back on electricity.
Bill Carson, Chairman of Age Sector Platform, commented: “These figures are very worrying. Older people who cut back on heating and electricity over the winter months will inevitably experience health problems, and this may result in increased excess winter deaths, due to cold. It seems that excess winter deaths have increased by around 60% in last five years, and with older people cutting back on heating, this will surely continue to rise. In fact, our research shows that nearly one in two (46%) older people are worried that the increased cost of living will have an adverse impact on their health during the winter months; but are still willing to cut back on essential heating and electricity because of their financial circumstances.”
The research, in addition to highlighting the worries of older people, also established what action they believed should be taken by Government in tackling the issue. Forty per cent of those surveyed stated that the Winter Fuel Payment for older people should be increased.
Duane Farrell, Head of Policy, Research and Communications at Help the Aged in Northern Ireland, explained: “This finding is of no surprise. The current Winter Fuel Payment of £250 for those over 60 is totally inadequate when taking into account recent increases in energy prices. We calculate that the Winter Fuel Payment covered a third of average fuel prices when it was introduced; now it covers less than one fifth. It must be increased to at least £500 to be of help to older people in Northern Ireland.”
Peter Morris, Director of Consumer and Corporate Services, BT said, “We understand this is a difficult time for many older people. So providing the phone lines for the BT Winter Warmth Hotline is simply a natural thing for BT to do. Helping people communicate is what we do and as we have the technology and people in place, it is very fitting that we get involved. We want all our customers to feel connected and not feel isolated. I’m very proud that so many of our employees have also volunteered to help answer calls to the hotline over the winter months”.
Anne O’Reilly, Chief Executive of Age Concern NI, commented on how the age sector plans to support older people during this difficult period: “This research has given us a real insight into how older people are planning to cope over the winter months. In response to this, Age Concern NI, Help the Aged and Age Sector Platform will launch a Winter Warmth Hotline, sponsored by BT, which will act as a practical information and signposting service for older people.”
Ms O’Reilly continued: “The Winter Warmth Hotline, which will operate from 2pm until 4pm every Wednesday afternoon, will provide older people from across Northern Ireland with information regarding local community support in their area in addition to general tips on keeping warm over the winter. For those who are struggling over the winter months, it will act as a greatly needed helping hand. The hotline number is 0800 0850185.”