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Old and Cold: Older People and Policies Failing to Address Fuel Poverty


Research, funded by the British Gas Help the Aged Partnership and carried out by the Institute of Gerontology, King's College London, explored the multidimensional issues of fuel poverty. A sample of older homeowners and private renters living in England, Scotland and Wales were interviewed in the Spring of 2003 to explore their experiences of keeping their homes warm in the preceding winter. It was found that almost half of the sample for whom full information was available were in fuel poverty. Government schemes failed to address some important issues. Grants were only available to those with “passport benefits”, excluding those who had minimal occupational pensions. Although most respondents had central heating, it was often old and ineffective, yet grants were not available to modernize them. Government schemes did not extend to paying for external and internal insulation for solid wall properties yet many older people live in such property. Several older people lived in rural areas not connected to mains gas. As mains gas currently provides the cheapest fuel, they faced high bills, yet government policies do not address the differential fuel costs in these areas. The culture of many older people in the study contributed to their living in cold homes. They lived frugally and usually turned heating off in daylight hours during winter. It was also a common practice to sleep in an unheated bedroom during winter and to keep the window open at night. Such practices are acknowledged to be unhealthy.