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The UK is the 'poor man' of Europe when it comes to looking after its elderly population during the winter months, according to British Gas/Help the Aged Partnership.

As part of its campaign to end the scandal of cold-related deaths, the British Gas/Help the Aged Partnership commissioned a survey by Ipsos MORI to explore the comparative attitudes and behaviour of older people in the UK and Sweden during the winter months.

Sweden has colder winter temperatures, yet a far lower rate of excess winter deaths. 

The research points to the fact that people in the UK are more worried about fuel bills compared to income, despite higher fuel prices in Sweden.

Key differences between the UK and Sweden reveal:

  • UK pensioners are considerably more concerned about the cold.
  • More than a third of the UK's 9.6 million over 65's are dreading the cold this winter. (34 per cent compared to 20 per cent)
  • UK pensioners are four times more likely to avoid heating rooms like their bedroom, bathroom or living room.  (20 per cent against five per cent) 
  • A third of UK pensioners are worried about being able to afford their fuel bills this winter. (34 per cent against eight per cent)
  • Over half of UK pensioners wear extra layers of clothes at home to keep warm, compared to only a quarter in Sweden (53 per cent against 26 per cent)
  • Nearly twice as many people in the UK worry about getting out and about in winter. (37 per cent against 20 per cent)

This research follows the government's latest figures on the number of cold related deaths last winter, many of which could have been prevented, with over 25,000 people in the UK over the age of 65 dying from cold related illnesses.

"The research illustrates how pensioners in the UK are getting a raw deal," said Steve Jones, Director of Communications and Marketing, Help the Aged.

"We know that they are hampered by low incomes and poor housing, and this is impacting dramatically on their standard of living and quality of life.  We cannot stand by each winter and watch them waiting for a 'death sentence'.

"When you consider that currently £4 billion goes unclaimed in benefits each year by older people, it is not hard to make the connection that this money might be put to good short-term use to benefit vulnerable older people.

"Imaginative government thinking on improved heating and insulation for everyone, affordable environment friendly technology or, at its simplest, a pension that reflects the real costs of an acceptable living standard, would go a long way to alleviating the misery older people presently suffer.

"It is quite disgraceful that we remain the 'poor man of Europe' in the treatment of our older population." 

The British Gas Help the Aged Partnership is calling on government to take urgent action if it is to meet its commitment to eradicate fuel poverty  among vulnerable groups, which include older people, by 2010.
Currently over one million householders in the UK over the age of 60 live in fuel poverty. It warns that time is running out.

The Partnership wants to see:

  • Free central heating and insulation for all pensioners - as is the current practice in Scotland.  In England it is currently means-tested
  • Raise the Winter Fuel Payment or the Basic State Pension to take account of rising costs of living older people face, including the  increase in fuel costs.
  • More investment in new technologies for homes, such as affordable 'greener' renewable energy alternatives in homes where insulation cannot be fitted. Currently 50 per cent of UK homes occupied by 'fuel poor' people do not have cavity walls that can be insulated, or live in solid wall dwellings which are difficult to insulate.

"This data provides us with important new findings which can help inform the fuel poverty debate in this country." said Kevin Pringle, British Gas Help the Aged Partnership spokesperson.

"In a very real sense, excess winter deaths are a very British disease.  We know the hardship that older people face in the winter. That is why we have a long association with Help the Aged to provide practical measures to ensure the most vulnerable older people receive help.

"The Partnership's 'The cold can kill' pack, for example, which gives tips, advice and contacts to help them cope with winter, has been widely disseminated and our Benefits Advice Pilot programme has recovered over 6 million in extra benefits for older people."




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