Sign petition to help protect vulnerable older people this winter -€“ Age Action appeal

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New research finds that over 1,200 older people die of cold-related conditions each winter.

Age Action is urging the Government to reverse cuts to the free gas and electricity units for pensioners, amid growing concern at the severe hardship which the cuts will have for the most vulnerable of older people this winter.

The call came today as the older people’€™s charity launched an appeal for the public to support its petition for the reversal of the cuts, which commenced in September. “€œThis is literally a life and death issue for hundreds of older people who will struggle to heat their homes to a safe level over the coming months,” Age Action spokesman Eamon Timmins said. “€œWhile resources are tight, we all have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable citizens from cuts which will cause harm and even death. We are urging the public to show their concern by signing the petition.”

Age Action used the launch to reveal new research on the impact of cold weather on older people Ireland. Research on fuel poverty and older people by the Dublin Institute of Technology and the Institute of Public Health — funded by CARDI and due to be published in the coming weeks — shows that during the winter of 2006/7 there were 1,281 excess winter deaths*. Of these, the vast majority were older people (1,216 were aged over-65).

“These are older people who are dying of cardiovascular and respiratory illness – cold-related conditions,” Mr Timmins said. “These are people who are dying because they cannot afford to heat their homes to a safe level.”

The new research highlights the scale of the silent suffering being experienced by older people. In response to a questionnaire earlier this year, almost a quarter of respondents (24%) said their homes were “too cold” and more than half (51%) went without other necessities to pay their fuel bills.

“€œThe Government’€™s decision to cut the free gas/electricity units by between 20% and 25% is going to make life much harder for the most vulnerable of older people,”€ Mr Timmins said. “In particular, we are concerned about older people who live alone, on low incomes, in older (and poorly insulated) homes, and who often have poor health or a physical disability. If these people struggled last winter to keep well and warm, what does the coming winter hold for them?”

Age Action also used yesterday’s petition launch to publish their pre-Budget submission for the December Budget. Fuel poverty is one of five key issues addressed. The others were:

Income – 10% of older people in Ireland live on incomes deemed to be in poverty. Despite falling inflation over the last three years, the cost of key goods and services continues to rise. Their pensions are also under increased pressure from a variety of new charges. We are calling for the State Pension and welfare payments to be protected.

Health – There is a need to protect community-based health services (eg home help and home care packages) which older people are dependent on but which have experienced major cuts in recent years. The universal health insurance scheme must provide adequate basic care. Adequate levels of funding must be provided for the Fair Deal scheme.

Transport – Funding for the Rural Transport Programme must be protected, such is its importance for older people. Social inclusion must remain its sole priority. Free travel is also vital for older people, enabling them to live independently. The scheme must be protected.

Employment – With an ageing workforce and changes to the elibiligity age for the State Pension from 2014, FAS must plan for, and deliver training for older workers.

A copy of the pre-Budget submission is available here.

FOR MEDIA QUERIES CONTACT EAMON TIMMINS, HEAD OF ADVOCACY & COMMUNICATIONS, AGE ACTION, 01-4756989 OR 087-9682449

October 26, 2011

*The excess winter death rate deaths in the four winter months, compared to an average of the other eight months in 2006/7. These are the most recent years for which accurate data is available.

The Principal Investigator on the DIT/Institute of Public Health’€™s Fuel poverty older people and cold weather: An all-island analysis is Professor Pat Goodman. He is available for media comment at 086-3571843.

Pictured at the Age Action appeal were left to right:

Beth Noonan, Blackrock
Robin Webster, Chief Executive of Age Action Ireland.
Eamon Timmins, Head of Advocacy and Communications.