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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 December 2006, 18:23 GMT
Fuel bills 'put elderly at risk'
A pensioner by a heater
Many pensioners struggle to stay warm in winter
A senior public health official has warned that the lives of thousands of elderly people are at risk because they cannot afford to heat their homes.

Rod Griffiths of the Faculty of Public Health said there would be "a lot more deaths, unnecessary deaths, because people cannot afford the fuel".

Charity Age Concern wants a 100 rise in the winter fuel payment.

Ministers say current payouts of up to 200 for single people and 300 for couples will stay as they are.

The average winter payment now covers less than a fifth of the average energy bill.

Help the Aged said rising council tax bills meant some pensioners were cutting back on food and heating.

'Less able to cope'

It said more than a third of over 65s living on the lowest household incomes saw 10% of their earnings eaten up paying the bill.

It seems that in the fast pace of today's society, pensioners needs are left on the back burner
Lynne Thomas, Hengoed

One quarter said they were left with either no money at the end of the month or having to forgo some basics, such as heating.

Meanwhile, Brendan Paddy from Age Concern told BBC News 24 it was vital older people were able to keep themselves warm.

"As we get older our bodies are just less able to cope with extremes of temperature they used to be," he said.

"Older people tend to spend a lot more time inactive and in their homes so it's especially important they are able to heat their homes adequately."

Hobbies neglected

The government has said that pensioners' incomes are "higher than they have ever been".

But in the Help the Aged survey, 5% of those questioned had gone without some food, while 8% said they had cut back on heating.

Anne Gall

The report also showed that 13% - equivalent to more than a million pensioners - had had to cut back on hobbies and socialising in order to meet council tax payments.

Anna Pearson, senior policy officer at Help the Aged, said: "The government must reform council tax so that it better takes account of income and in the short-term the chancellor should immediately return the 200 rebate on council tax bills to pensioners."

Discount withdrawn

The 200 discount was first made available before the 2005 general election but was later withdrawn.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the government was "proud of its record in tackling pensioner poverty" and as a result of changes since 1997, the average pensioner households were now 1,400 a year better off.

He added: "Those in receipt of pension credit guarantee are entitled to full council tax benefit, so should not be paying any council tax bills."

Shadow local government secretary Caroline Spelman said: "This research shows the genuine hardship and distress felt by some of the most vulnerable people in society as a result of Gordon Brown's decision to drive council tax up by 84% since 1997."

How the elderly are coping with winter

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