Winter Warmth Fund – Five Facts
This winter there will be more than six million UK households living in fuel poverty – that means people spending more than a tenth of their income on heating. Around two thirds live in rural areas. All districts in Cumbria have a higher proportion of households living in fuel poverty than the national average, with 14,302 households suffering. Parts of Barrow (Barrow Island, Hindpool and Central) and the Eden Valley (Crosby Ravensworth, Askham and Hesket) having some of the worst hit areas in the UK.
People die because they can’t keep warm in the winter. The ratio of winter related deaths is higher in Cumbria than most of the UK, with 300 deaths due to the effects of cold weather. The elderly are among the most vulnerable. Research shows that cold homes can kill and that better insulation and heating not only improves the quality of life for older people – it would extend their lives.
Fuel poverty is particularly bad in rural areas where properties are older, unsuitable for cavity walk insulation, off the gas mains network and relying on oil, solid fuel or electric storage heaters for heating. Fuel costs are rising, average households saw gas bills double and electricity rise by 60% between 2003 and 2009. The average cost of heating an off gas main rural home is £1,700 a year compared to £1,000 if connected to gas mains. Recent announcements by energy suppliers show this autumn gas will rise by 20% and electricity by 10%. The cost of heating oil has risen by 70% in the past two years.
In cold weather, a third of people living on a low income will cut back on food and two thirds will cut back on heating. As a result, half of those people will suffer depression and anxiety, a third will exacerbate existing health problems and one in six people will withdraw from social contact, according to the Centre for Sustainable Energy.
A healthy living environment is defined by the Government as being 21 degrees celsius in living areas and 18 degrees celsius in other parts of the house. Fuel poor households can’t afford to heat their homes to these temperatures.
If the temperature is lower than 12 degrees celsius, blood pressure rises in the elderly, increasing the risk of a heart attack. A drop in body temperature causes the blood to thicken, making circulation more difficult and contributing to heart attacks and strokes. It also increases the likelihood of falls and accidents. In temperatures below 16 degrees celsius, the body is less resistant to respiratory infections.