Dorset Charity

Dorset Community Foundation

Tenth anniversary Surviving Winter campaign aims to keep elderly warm.

THOUSANDS of people will have received their government Winter Fuel Payment of up to £200 before Christmas and the Dorset Community Foundation is asking those who feel they don’t need it to help save lives.

The charity is marking the tenth anniversary of its Surviving Winter Appeal by asking more people than ever to help prevent the deaths of hundreds of elderly people through cold-related illness. Surviving Winter, which has raised more than £250,000 and helped hundreds of people since its launch, wants people in Dorset to donate their Winter Fuel Payment so it can be ‘recycled’ to some of the estimated 19,000 people in the county who cannot afford to keep their homes warm during the coldest months.

The most recent figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed 730 people in the county die each year of cold-related illness, a 40 per cent increase on the previous figure. The majority of people who suffer premature winter-related death are over 65, and 75 per cent of these deaths are due to the impact the cold has on respiratory and circulatory conditions.

The majority of people who suffer premature winter-related death are over 65, and 75 per cent of these deaths are due to the impact the cold has on respiratory and circulatory conditions

Dorset Community Foundation chief executive Grant Robson said: “We begin 2021 still feeling the effects of the pandemic and knowing it will take many months to get back to normality. But for older people it has been particularly hard. Many of them are still worried about going outdoors, and those that feel able to find that it is hard to see family or friends, where they can spend some time in a warm home, because of the Covid restrictions.

“Then there are the community centres, lunch clubs and drop-ins that provide wamth, hot food and company, they are all closed as well because of  coronavirus. All of this will keep older people indoors for longer, force their heating bills higher and make them more anxious about paying them.”

A report by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy last year found there are 19,000 households in Dorset – almost one in ten –  living in fuel poverty, which means they cannot afford to heat their home properly in winter.

Living in cold homes can also worsen mental health issues, as can the anxiety caused by mounting fuel bills. Older people are more likely to worry about being unable to pay a bill and subsequently skip meals or eat cheaper and less nutritious meals to save money.

Mr Robson said: “It’s a vicious circle because reducing your calorie intake is disastrous for older people. Malnutrition and weight loss just means they feel the cold more so they need the hearing on more often and their bills get higher.”

Colin Coop, of Dorchester, received a £200 grant from the appeal last year. The pensioner, who suffers from bronchitis, said he could only afford to run an electric fan heater for two hours a day and have his hot water on for two weeks of the month before he received the grant.

He said: “I couldn’t keep my clothing clean because I didn’t have the hot water to wash them.”

Grants of £200 are given to recipients via the Citizens Advice Bureau to people over 60 in fuel poverty or to those 50 and over who meet the winter fuel poverty criteria, which includes significant health conditions, are on the highest level of benefits or have little current chance of improving their life circumstances.

Citizens Advice advisors can also support clients by signposting other benefits, such as Attendance Allowance or Personal Independence Payments that may help them, as well sharing guidance on making the most of their heating, improving insulation and eating better. The charity works with agencies such as social services, Age UK and other charities to identify people at risk who are living in fuel poverty.

Mr Robson said: “We are really pleased to be working with Citizens Advice because they are able to provide real and practical help when they find people at risk.

“It is shocking to think that there will be people this winter facing the choice between heating and eating because they just can’t afford both. Because poor nourishment only makes existing conditions like respiratory illness worse and, with the NHS under more pressure than ever before, this is not a time that people want to be going into hospital.

“Over the last decade we have been amazed and humbled by the generosity of the people of this county but at a time when Covid-19 has made life more difficult and uncertain for everyone, the need for this appeal is greater than ever. By donating their Winter Fuel payment, people could literally save someone’s life.”

Donate at www.dorsetcommunityfoundation.org/appeals/surviving-winter or by sending cheques, made payable to Dorset Community Foundation, to The Spire, High Street, Poole, BH15 1DF.

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