CITIZENS Advice energy experts fear for the health of older people living in fuel poverty in Dorset as temperatures drop below zero during the latest cold spell.
Dorset Community Foundation’s annual Surviving Winter appeal raises money to fund £200 energy grants to older and vulnerable people in the county, but its appeal partners at Citizens Advice say demand for the grants is on the rise.
Katrina Ford, Business Development Manager at Citizens Advice East Dorset & Purbeck, which works with the foundation on behalf of all of the county’s branches, says the costs of living crisis is driving even more people into fuel poverty and the recent cold weather could have a devastating effect on their health.
“We launch the appeal every October and by January 2021 we had made 135 grants, so far this year we have made 242,” she said. “We’ve had 15 grant applications in the last two days, so you can see how quickly we’ll get through them in a week.
“I think people were already in a state of desperation because everything just costs so much more and I think this cold weather’s going to compound that a little bit.
She said her team’s energy advisors are constantly busy and have heard from older people who are skipping meals or having their heating on for just a few hours a day. “If people with health conditions aren’t going to be turning their heating on that is a real worry,” she said.
“If they are choosing between putting their heating on and having something to eat that is dangerous. That, or skipping a meal, might seem the only option but that isn’t really managing is it?”
I think people were already in a state of desperation because everything just costs so much more and I think this cold weather’s going to compound that a little bit.
Dr James Richards, a consultant physician and geriatrician at Dorset County Hospital, said the cumulative effects of living in a cold house can worsen respiratory illness in older people and make infections more likely.
“Pneumonia and other infections are more likely as your body temperature goes down,” he said. “This is far more common when people are not having their heating on at all or damp has worsened when homes are colder.
“There are many areas in the body that don’t work so well when you are cold. A lot of the body’s enzymes that help with digesting food and fighting infection don’t work so well below normal body temperature. Being cold is generally bad for your immune system.”
Dorset Community Foundation chief executive Grant Robson said although the response to this year’s appeal has been good, there is still a need for more funds to keep up with the growing demand for grants.
“We are hugely thankful to everyone who has donated so far but if people can spare some money in these tough times to help older and vulnerable people stay warm and safe that would be wonderful.
“If any companies or clubs felt they could so some fundraising in the office or at get-togethers I can assure them that every penny will make a massive difference to someone who really needs it.
“We all have older relatives and neighbours and it’s not hard to imagine what life would be like for them having to struggle by day after day in a freezing cold home.”
Find out more about the appeal and how to donate here.