Cost of living pushes older people in Wales into fuel poverty
Older people in Wales face falling deeper into fuel poverty this winter because of the cost-of-living crisis and a lack of long-term solutions, a new report has found.
The report, published by Care & Repair Cymru, sheds light on the serious winter challenges facing older people in Wales, which persist year-on-year.
Titled ‘Older People in Wales: Poverty in Winter 2023-24’, the report reveals that despite government financial support the average Care & Repair client will be spending 19% of their income toward fuel and water bills this winter.
Significant health risks
Chris Jones, CEO of Care & Repair Cymru, said: “From the onset of the cost-of-living crisis, we have seen more and more people struggling to keep on top of their energy bills, and unable to keep warm and safe in their homes. At Care & Repair Cymru, we do not accept that any older person should become ill because they live in a cold home. But long-term solutions are needed to ensure households can afford to keep warm, ultimately preventing cold-related illnesses and unnecessary hospital admissions.”
The findings show that 96% of households accessing Care & Repair’s energy advice service were identified as living in fuel poverty. Fuel poverty poses significant health risks, especially to those aged 75 and above, increasing the likelihood of respiratory problems, cardiovascular issues, falls, and hospitalisations.
Care & Repair help people like 67-year-old Sally (not her real name), who lives in a 1950’s terraced house in Cardiff. She had been struggling with a cold home and broken heating for several years. She said, “After having the boiler for over 15 years it was breaking down and we couldn’t get the parts. It was a real worry that I would be freezing cold and it wouldn’t come on. Sometimes there was no hot water because the boiler had gone, so we were boiling kettles and saucepans.” Sally was referred to Care & Repair and the Welsh Government’s NEST scheme. “Sarah Penny from Care & Repair introduced me to NEST. Best thing that ever happened; saved my skin. I was so relieved and so happy.”
While there has been an increase in the state pension in line with inflation, older citizens still face higher utility expenses. This places additional stress on already vulnerable households, raising concerns about escalating debts and the struggle to afford necessities.
The report underlines the limitations of short-term measures in addressing the financial burdens older people face, and calls for lasting, comprehensive solutions.
Faye Patton, Policy Manager at Care & Repair Cymru, said: “While immediate government support has been a lifeline, it’s not a blueprint for lasting change. We need sustainable solutions that address the root causes of energy poverty among older people in Wales. This isn’t just about this winter or the next; it’s about breaking the cycle of fuel poverty and adopting long-term strategies. We must create an environment where the older generation can comfortably heat their homes without sacrificing their wellbeing.”
Care & Repair Cymru proposes several long-term solutions to address these issues. They believe that the introduction of social tariffs is one idea that would help, as it involves offering discounted energy price plans to vulnerable households to ensure affordability, safeguarding against future energy price surges.
The charity is also calling for a safety net grant for housing disrepair, which will rectify hazardous disrepair in Welsh homes and significantly improve thermal efficiency, curbing unnecessary energy usage.
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