According to the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, the number of households in fuel poverty – where more than 10 per cent of income goes on heating and lighting – has trebled in five years, from 1.2 million in 2003 to 4 million last September.
Polling of pensioners by the charity Age Concern found that 38 per cent were cutting back on gas and 41 per cent on electricity this year because of fears that they could not afford the prices. With 13 million pensioners in the UK, the charity's findings suggest that 5.2 million people over 60 will go cold at some point this winter.Faced with a choice between food and fuel, many opt not to switch on radiators or gas fires – at a cost to their health.The Office for National Statistics has calculated there were 24,995 "excess winter deaths" between December 2007 and March 2008. Three quarters of those that die each year are aged 75 or over.
Age Concern spokesman Stefano Gelmini said: "If older people cut back on their heating during a colder winter this could raise the numbers affected by cold-related illness, which contributes to thousands of excess winter deaths of older people each year."
Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, explained: "If people live in the cold – particularly the elderly and those living alone – they are more likely to to get cardiovascular problems, heart attacks and strokes, and chronic lung conditions like bronchitis.They can become less mobile. They try to keep one room warm, and because they don't move about so much and don't go out so much they can get quite depressed, so there are mental health problems too." He added: "The harder it is for people to heat their homes, the more deaths there will be. A particular concern for the Faculty of Public Health Medicine is that higher energy prices are unequal in their impact and hit the poor more."
According to the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, rising fuel prices mean ministers now have no hope of hitting their target of removing all "vulnerable" households from fuel poverty by 2010.
Another broken promise , another failed palliative .