FREEZING pensioners in Hucknall and the rest of Ashfield are dying at a faster rate than anywhere else in Nottinghamshire — because they are struggling to keep warm during winter.
Shocking figures have shown that since 2002, hundreds of vulnerable and cash-strapped elderly residents in the district have lost their lives because of the biting cold weather — mainly because they cannot afford crippling heating-bills.
An average of 70 pensioners a year die in Hucknall and Ashfield as plummeting temperatures take hold.
The figure is seven more than the average of 63 in Bassetlaw and 11 more than the figure for the affluent area of Rushcliffe. The yearly average for the whole county is 402 deaths.
Ever-increasing gas and electricity charges, the impact of the recession and the increasing cost of living are all having a major impact on elderly residents during winter.
A range of local and national campaigns has been launched to combat the alarming problem.
Now Notts County Council has secured a cash injection of £243,000 from the government in a bid to help prevent deaths and hospital admissions caused by the cold weather on the over-75s.
Other vulnerable people, such as those with learning or physical disabilities, could also benefit from the Warm Homes Health People Fund money.
Coun Kevin Rostance (Con), of Hucknall, who is the county council‘s lead member for adult social care and health, said: “This is fantastic news. We will use this money to deliver practical support and advice to the most vulnerable people in our county.
“We believe this action will help avoid needless deaths and hospital admissions. Although we will be doing a range of work, I would also urge everyone to do their bit to help out vulnerable people in their families or local area. A quick visit every few days to check someone is OK could be a real lifeline for them.”
The Warm Homes Health People Fund will pay for:
n TEMPERATURE sensors which alert a central monitoring team when the temperature drops below a certain level in the homes of elderly residents;
n APPROVED ‘handy people’ to carry out thermostat checks, radiator bleeds and insulation checks;
n ELECTRIC-blanket safety checks and exchanges;
n ENERGY advisers to visit homes and help people switch gas and electricity tariffs, get home insulation and energy-saving advice;
n FREE information packs, containing wall thermometers, and literature, advising how to keep warm;
n TRAINING and information for front line staff from health, social care, housing support, coal merchants and pharmacies.
Other agencies involved in the Warm Homes project include NHS Nottinghamshire, NHS Bassetlaw, Nottingham Community Foundation, Voluntary and Community Sector Older People’s Network, Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, all district and borough councils and the Older People’s Advisory Group.
Surveys have brought the plight of elderly residents struggling to keep warm into the national headlines.
An investigation by Help The Aged found that more pensioners dread the cold in the UK than their counterparts in Sweden where winters are much more harsh.
Of those interviewed, 34% were worried about affording their heating bills.
It is hoped the Warm Homes Health People Fund will complement national schemes such as a call for more well-off pensioners who are entitled to a winter fuel allowance — a payment of up to £400 to cover winter heating costs — to donate the cash to benefit the more needy.
Locally, the fuel allowance scheme has been promoted by Hucknall’s former Labour MP, Paddy Tipping.