Page last updated at 00:36 GMT, Monday, 10 November 2008

Millions 'plan heating cutbacks'

Elderly woman in front of heater
Thousands may have to dip into savings, the survey suggests.

More than 4.5 million elderly people in the UK will heat just one room in their home this winter to try to reduce their energy bills, a survey suggests.

The survey of 1,263 adults aged over 60 by the British Gas Help the Aged Partnership found one in four would stay warm by getting into bed.

The organisations are urging the government to do more to cut the number of those living in fuel poverty.

The government said the issue was a priority it had started to tackle.

The partnership said its survey suggested that two million more people would warm only one of their rooms this winter compared with last year.

'Eat or heat'

Pollsters ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,263 adults aged 60 and above over a two-week period in October for the survey.

The campaigners estimate that one in four older people is "fuel poor" - meaning they are spending more than 10% of their disposable income in a bid to keep warm.

They are calling for the government to help people like 76-year-old widow Rita Young from Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire.

Rita Young
Widow Rita Young is 'fuel-poor' and is concerned about how she will cope

She receives 128 a week in state pension and 18 in pension credit, giving her a total income of 146 a week.

She also receives housing benefit which is used to pay her weekly housing association rent of 78.

The grandmother said: "The association is going to put in a new central heating system for me and that should hopefully keep the costs down a bit more, but for now I plan to stay in my bed under the covers if it gets too bad.

"You feel the cold a lot more when you get older and sometimes it gets to the point where you think 'I'll either eat or I'll heat'."

The survey suggests that nearly two million older people are planning to dip into their savings to cover the cost of fuel this winter.

But for Mrs Young, who pays 79 a month for her fuel bills, this is not an option. She said: "I don't have any savings left at all."

She said the government and the gas and electricity companies had to do more to help people like her.

Benefits

In 2000, under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act, the government pledged to do everything "reasonably practicable" to end fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010, and in all households in England by 2016.

But Kate Jopling, Help the Aged's head of public affairs, said: "Every single day the situation gets worse. The government measures do not match the scale of the problem.

"It's about examining, as a whole, energy efficiency, the money people actually have and the cost of fuel.

Mary Phillips
Campaigners went to London's High Court to protest against fuel poverty

She said the government had to give more help to the most hard-pressed families this winter and encourage older generations to take up benefits they could be missing out on.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "We've increased funding to our Warm Front scheme to around 800m, and through it have provided heating and insulation improvements to 1.7 million homes, saving about 300 per household each year."

She said the government was working on a number of campaigns focused on encouraging people to save energy and cut down on their bills.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said winter fuel payments had gone up by at least 50 this winter for households containing older people.

Last month Help the Aged and Friends of the Earth lost a High Court bid to force the government to spend more on ending fuel poverty. They are considering appealing against the verdict.

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