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Dublin: 2 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019
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Half of older people forgo food to pay for fuel - survey

Researchers say fuel poverty is contributing to “significant” differences in summer and winter mortality rates across the island of Ireland.

Photo posed by model
Photo posed by model
Image: John Birdsall/John Birdsall/Press Association Images

MORE THAN HALF of older people in Ireland go without food or clothing in order to heat their homes, according to new report on fuel poverty among older people.

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of older people surveyed described their homes as too cold, while 62 per cent said they were worried about the cost of heating, and 8 per cent admitted to using their ovens to provide additional heat during cold snaps.

The report, Fuel Poverty, Older People and Cold Weather: An All-island Analysis, focused on the experiences of older people between January and April 2011. It presented data showing an excess of wintertime deaths among older people in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Winter mortality rates

“Winter mortality rates in both jurisdictions have decreased but there are still significant differences between winter and summer mortality rates in older people, and cold homes can contribute to this phenomenon,” said the principal investigator of the study Professor Pat Goodman.

Previous analysis on cold-related deaths carried out by Dublin Institute of Technology found that each 1C drop in temperature was associated with a 2.6 per cent increase in deaths over the subsequent 40 days – the majority of which occurred in older people.

Institute of Public Health Senior Policy Officer Dr Helen McAvoy pointed out that those most likely to experience fuel poverty were also vulnerable in terms of health. She said this was driven by:

  • Poor housing conditions
  • Energy inefficient housing
  • Rising fuel prices
  • Low income

“Older people living in a home they considered ‘too cold’ were more likely to report significant ill-health and disability. Older people who are over 75, older people living alone and those with a chronic illness or disability were particularly vulnerable,” she said.

McAvoy said that a different balance of measures may need to be adopted in each of the island’s jurisdictions, as older people in the Republic were more likely to lack central heating (12 per cent) compared to Northern Ireland (7 per cent).

Budget 2011

It was announced in Budget 2011 that the fuel allowance scheme, paid to those who are unable to provide for the cost of heating their homes, would be altered with a view to making savings. While the scheme previously operated for 32 weeks – from September to the end of April – it will now be cut to 26 weeks.

The move to cut the fuel allowance period has been criticised by Ireland’s Catholic bishops, with Bishop Christopher Jones of Elphin saying the decision could have “a serious impact on older people and those suffering from ill-health”.

A range of groups came together to carry out the research for the report, including Dublin Institute of Technology, the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, Northern Ireland’s Centre of Excellence in Public Health and Brunel University London and funded by the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland.

The research involved a sample of 722 older people

Read: Bishops urge government to abandon cuts>

Read in full: TheJournal.ie’s coverage of Budget 2012>

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