Pensioners can only afford to heat one room: government advice

Sarah Coles
sad elderly woman sitting in a room
sad elderly woman sitting in a room

The impact of the startling price of energy has been revealed by a government leaflet released today, which recommends that pensioners only heat one room in their house in order to stay warm without breaking the bank. It raises the question of just how desperate energy bills are making life for retirees.

The leaflet is designed to reduce the shocking number of deaths caused by the cold. Last year, for example, 31,000 people died because of the cold in the UK - most of whom were over the age of 75.
Among the recommendations are: "Turn off heating in rooms you're not using. You'll still be cosy and warm but the heating won't stay on where you don't need it." On the one hand, this is actually very sensible advice. For those people with large family homes, who live alone or with one other person, heating every spare room is simply a waste of money. For decades people have been turning some of the radiators off unless they have guests.

In fact, much of the advice in the leaflet may have some older people scanning the list for the instructions on how to suck eggs. They include such gems as wearing extra clothes around the house, drinking tea, wearing slippers and taking a hot water bottle to bed.

But while many people would argue that it's no particular hardship to leave the spare room cold or wear a cardigan indoors, some of the other advice dished out starts to become a bit extreme. The Mirror points out that the NHS Choices website says: "If you can't heat all the rooms, heat the living room during the day and the bedroom just before you go to sleep." It reflects the fact that 36% of older people told Age UK that they have to essentially live in one room all day in order to stay warm during the winter.

It also means every time you venture into the hallway, kitchen or bathroom during the winter months you're likely to need an extra jumper - and possibly a pair of gloves. There will be those who can still vividly remember taking a bath in a freezing bathroom - in the days before central heating, but they must have thought that the march of progress would be enough to stop them having to return to the bad old days again.

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Tips for Saving Energy at Home
Tips for Saving Energy at Home

Energy prices
It goes to show just how out of hand energy prices have become. In fact, according to Age UK, 1.7 million older people cannot afford to heat their homes this winter. Last year the bitter winter saw a spike in deaths from the cold and since then the price of the average energy bill has risen more than £50 a year - leaving even more people unable to stay warm this winter.

Meanwhile the energy companies continue to rake in huge profits - especially give the fact that the wholesale price of gas has been falling for much of this year (and had roughly halved by the beginning of September) - while the prices charged to customers stayed exactly the same. At the time Which? calculated that customers were being charged at least three times what they were paying for wholesale gas.

There will be those who argue that rather than wasting all this money on a leaflet with fairly obvious advice on staying warm, the government could achieve more by forcing the energy companies to cut their profits - or spend more on providing support for the customers who are making difficult choices about whether there's a bigger risk of harm to their health from cutting back on heating or cutting back on food.

But what do you think? Is heating a single room and bulking out on jumpers the best answer we have in the 21st century?

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