Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Fighting fuel poverty - let Care & Repair help you

According to latest figures, there are almost 2,000 excess winter deaths a year in Wales. We hear the term ‘excess winter deaths’ quite frequently, but it’s hard to imagine how and why this can happen.

As an Affordable Warmth Caseworker for Care & Repair Cardiff, visiting older people on a daily basis in their homes, unfortunately I can see how this happens. When reporting on this issue, the press might conjure up images of older people with blankets around their knees, shivering in front of a gas fire. This is not the case for the majority of older people, but for some this is actually their reality.

I saw a lady recently in Riverside who was wearing a dressing gown over her clothes to keep warm every time I visited her. I saw a gentleman in Canton who wore a woolly hat and refused to put the heating on unless it snowed because he was scared of high gas bills. I saw a lady in Grangetown who had no form of heating whatsoever in the house, had never had any, and cried every time I visited as she couldn’t face another winter living that way. Unfortunately, this is how some older people live, and it is easy to see how their health and wellbeing can be affected.

Many older people live on low incomes, have little or no savings and live in homes that don’t suit their needs. Quite often, they live in the family home that they have lived in for decades which they now find that they can’t afford to maintain or heat adequately. There are often problems with the heating system, windows and damp, along with stairs and bathrooms that can’t be managed. Many people are just used to managing and used to be being cold; they’re not aware of the damage it could be doing to their health or where to go for help. Poor physical health and mental health problems can also complicate the issue and make it difficult for people to find and access help, or even to face having anything done to their home.

There is help out there. We can help people to find grants to improve their home and heating and support them through the process of having any work done. We can help people to take control of their bills by looking at changing supplier or making sure they are on the best tariff. We also make sure that people are claiming all the benefits they are entitled to which can vastly increase their income and make life a little easier. We’ve also helped people to clear gas and electricity debts.

I think it will be difficult to find a long term solution to fuel poverty. Grants for new boilers are excellent in the short term, but what happens in 10 years time when that boiler is inefficient again? It’s not a long term solution to the problem. We hear that insulating our homes is the best solution, but most people have had cavity wall and loft insulation fitted and accessing more complicated specialist measures is difficult and very expensive.

One thing I have come to learn in this job is the importance of planning for your old age. Older people should be able to live out their later years in comfort without worrying about living in cold homes which don’t suit their needs. It’s of benefit to everyone of any age to think about maintaining their homes, having appliances regularly serviced and using energy as efficiently as possible. These are all things that Care & Repair can assist with, so I would advise anyone who needs advice to contact us on 0300 111 3333.

Beatrice Roberts
Caseworker, Care & Repair in Cardiff

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