Freezing UK exposed as elderly left to shiver in face of soaring energy bills
VAT of nearly 5% is included in what households pay for their gas and electricity.The 71-year-old admits her home leaves all her visitors shivering and her family worried she’ll get pneumonia.“I said ‘I’m really sorry. Let’s move into the living room’, where the temperature was not much different but the sun was shining in.”
Since the pandemic Diane only ventures out to get her prescriptions because she is asthmatic and has been shielding so does not spend any money on luxuries.“I mostly eat vegetables. I’ve got a gas kettle because electric kettles take up so much energy.Read more: The Mirror »
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Temperatures have already plummeted to -7C, with snow and further freezing conditions predicted across the country this week. And no one is feeling the cold - and the financial pinch - as much as pensioners. The Mirror is calling for VAT on energy bills to be scrapped as rocketing prices look set to push millions into poverty. The annual bill for an average three-bedroom gas-heated home could rise by an inflation-busting £240 up to a huge £1,360, experts estimate. VAT of nearly 5% is included in what households pay for their gas and electricity. Scrapping it would save £60 on the typical annual bill now, but could be worth £100 a year if a price cap is hiked as expected in April. Here we reveal the harsh reality of rising energy costs faced by our elderly. Diane Skidmore, 71 Grandmother Diane Skidmore’s flat is so bitterly cold her grandchildren can’t even visit. The 71-year-old admits her home leaves all her visitors shivering and her family worried she’ll get pneumonia. But Diane says these are the lengths she has to go, to keep those rising energy bills down. The mum-of-six and gran to seven, has seen her energy bills soar by 50% in recent months from £40 to £66. Speaking from her frosty ground floor flat in Tulse Hill, South London, she said: “A neighbour came in yesterday and I noticed she was shivering. “I said ‘I’m really sorry. Let’s move into the living room’, where the temperature was not much different but the sun was shining in.” The former NHS worker gets £600 to live on after her rent is paid from her state pension and is dreading the energy bill rises to come. “I live in the cold. My hands are freezing at the moment. Quite often my nose is cold like a dog’s. My kids are worried I will get pneumonia. “My daughters won’t bring the kids around because my house is so cold. They worry about me getting diseases or stuff too. “ Since the pandemic Diane only ventures out to get her prescriptions because she is asthmatic and has been shielding so does not spend any money on luxuries. “I’m very worried the bills are going up because I can’t live any more frugally than I already live,” she explained. “I already don’t turn the heating on most days and I never ever turn the heating on at night. “On the very coldest days I put it on at 4pm and put the kitchen timer on for half an hour. There is a cold patch around about 4pm. “I’ve got a bath but I don’t do that a lot to be honest. I’m very low maintenance. “I mostly eat vegetables. I’ve got a gas kettle because electric kettles take up so much energy. “I’m just worried it’s going to be horrible. I have to have faith. I’m not the only one with trouble going on, they have to come up with a solution.” Diane says she has tried other ways to heat her flat by blocking all the air vents and putting a big thick heavy curtain up but said it just causes condensation and black mould. “But I refuse to moan about it because when I was young we didn’t have gas central heating, when it got cold you just put a jumper on or do some exercise,” she said. But then admits: “At night it is very cold in here. “At the moment it’s only one degree at night and I can feel my head and my nose are absolutely verging on damp. I have to go down the bed under the sheets to get warm. “My old neighbour, who died, had a ‘noddy’ hat which he kept on all through winter. He used to sleep in it too. “Maybe I should get a hat.” Jack Mortimer, 98 Jack Mortimer was part of the ‘greatest generation’ during World War II, helping secure freedom for the world when he was just 20 years old and “frightened to death”. Regardless of these heroics the D-Day veteran, like many pensioners across the UK, is now living in fear of his energy bills. The 98-year-old only boils enough water for one cuppa and puts his immersion heating on every other day, to keep his rising energy bills down. At night the main light is switched off as he manages with his single bulb reading lamp only. And the energy “monitor thingy” he’s been given, sits ominously in the corner, constantly catching his eye. Jack has never been one to complain but says: “I don’t know how they can justify the increase. It doesn’t seem to be right but whatever Ofgem can do about it I don’t know. “I have always been economical with electricity. I only boil the amount of water you need for a cup of tea. Every other night I turn off the hot water system. “I have storage heaters and they are quite efficient and it’s cheap electric. “I am concerned the bills are going up because my income only goes up when the Government gives me a pension rise and as soon as they do that they take it off you in some other way. “Nobody seems to be worried about us. It’s like once you get over 75 they don’t want to know.” He lives alone in his third-floor flat in Leeds as his 96-year-old wife Flo, who has dementia, went into a home last year. He visits her every day from 1 to 4pm. And while the couple are due to celebrate their 77th wedding anniversary next week, sadly they will not be together as they have both tested positive for Covid. His flat is all electric and he complained last year because he seemed to be paying more than his neighbours and a month ago was fitted with a smart meter. “They said I was paying more because I was not paying enough before and owed them nearly £300. So I’m paying them in instalments now. These meters don’t seem to be as efficient as they should be,” he said. “I’ve had my meter changed now and yet to receive a new bill so I don’t know what difference that might make.” He said out of his £220 a week pension, he pays a £134 monthly direct debit for his electric and pays a monthly rent of £313. “I’m keeping my head above water but it is worrying,” he finally admits as he goes through his outgoings. “They have given me a monitor thingy to show how much I’m using. There’s an arc on it and it goes green when I’m doing all right but it goes in the red when I put the oven on. “When I’m sat at night, I don’t put the main bulb on which has three bulbs in it but just put the single light on, it’s not dangerous and is just enough light. “I only use the electric when I have to use it, when it gets dark I put a light on.” Jack was a despatch driver, behind the wheel of a jeep carrying ammunition and mortars on D-Day. He served with 12th Ordnance Beach Detachment. He landed on Sword Beach, as shells and mortars flew overhead, before advancing on to Caen. He said: “D-Day was a colossal project, you can’t imagine going over the Channel and being so close that you could almost step onto the next boat, there were thousands of them. “It was dangerous, there were snipers around. It was noisy and smoky when we landed, and I remember seeing lots of casualties. “I was 20 years old and frightened to death, everyone was, the army doesn’t tell you a lot, it gives you orders and you follow them, you don’t get an explanation. “...I was told to come off the beach and turn right, and there was a great big field which I helped to de-mine, then we dug a foxhole... and when you hear a plane approaching you jump straight into the foxhole. “I wouldn’t be here but for the paras who landed near Ranville - there were some big guns there and the paras took them out, otherwise Sword Beach could’ve been shelled out of existence. “ He got married to Flo after returning on leave in 1945 and after the army became a General Manager of a clothing company in Halifax making ladies’ blouses. He said previously: “I’m grateful that I’m alive, I’m grateful that I survived and I’m sorry that so many had to die, those were the heroes. “I don’t think I’m a hero, the heroes are the ones who didn’t come home, and they should always be remembered. It is very emotional, of course, to remember those who went and didn’t come back.” Pensioners queueing up for cafes to stay warm Elderly people have been heading to a shopping centre in Leeds to keep warm and keep their heating bills down at home. At Denicos Italian cafe in Crossgates shopping centre in Leeds staff say some pensioners have been queuing up to come in from the cold - even before they open at 8.30am. Waitress Leah Whitehouse said: “They come as soon as we open at 8.30am. Every single morning. There are two people who sit for three hours and then come again in the afternoon.” Her colleague Tracy Smith, 47, adds: “They come to keep warm. It is sad and there are definitely more now.” One of their regulars Elizabeth Kumiskey, 73 and her 70-year-old husband, Peter, are in their favourite ‘warm spot’ in the middle of the cafe. They point out it’s much colder on the tables nearer the entrance. Former NHS nurse, Peter, explains how their gas was cut off before Christmas because there was a leak and their boiler was condemned. He said they can’t afford to get it fixed as it would take a massive “chunk” out of their savings which they were going to use for a walk-in shower to make it easier for them. “We got several quotes for the central heating and it was about £6,000. Even with grants offered. “We have savings but I want to keep those for Elizabeth. She is not on a full pension because she brought up five children. It’s an insult what they get! “If I go first I want to leave something for her.” Putting a brave face on their predicament, he adds: “We’ve got a couple of electric fans now so it’s a bit better and we put the snake draft excluder down. We don’t have enough hot water for a bath. “We save money by buying food here. It’s cheaper than buying groceries and putting the oven on and it’s nice.” Elizabeth, clutching her mug of coffee for warmth and wearing a woolly bobble hat, added: “I keep warm when Peter holds my hand.” And about the sacrifices they have made to pay their bills, she adds: “You just expect less. We are quite frugal. We would like to go on holiday for a few days, somewhere with a bath maybe.” At a nearby Age UK meeting Margaret Logan, 68, a former supermarket worker, says she also watches the energy she uses carefully as she pays around £250 a quarter. She said: “I don’t have the heating on high just to warm the room a bit. I try not to cook as much with the electric cooker and use my microwave instead. “I like to go out a couple of times a week for a coffee but when the prices go up I might have to stop that.” She adds: “But I’m not too bad. I’m lucky. “The other day I went round to see my friend and she was sat in her big thick coat to keep warm. It was so cold in her house. She had no money because she had bought Christmas presents for her family members”. Jacqueline Lawson, the Leeds coordinator for Age UK, said some pensioners have been putting newspapers to block the drafts in their windows. She added: “I know people who have not been out for two years because of the pandemic so their house is a sanctuary for them. But when they are frightened of putting the heating on - that sanctuary ends up a cold and hostile place. It becomes a cold fridge.” Coldest town in England It’s the coldest place ever recorded in England. In January 1982, temperatures in Newport, Shropshire, plunged to -26.1 degrees. So where better to talk to people about the impending energy crisis? We bump into Philip and Pat Briscoe, who have been married for 47 years, on the market town’s main thoroughfare. “We were with Avro,” explained Pat, 72, speaking of one of the energy firms which collapsed last year, with Ofgem appointing Octopus Energy to take over. “That was last September, so we’ve gone over to Octopus but we don’t know what our rate’s going to be yet. They’ve got too many to deal with so they keep sending us emails telling us we will be able to look at our account soon. “We are concerned but we’re fortunate that we can afford to pay,” added the former receptionist. “If it doubles we will cut down a bit.” “We have to because if you pay more for your heating you’re going to be paying more for your food as well,” said Philip, 66. “Everything’s going up at the moment.” Brian and Celia Styles feel for people who are struggling. “You’re bound to get a higher bill anyway because it’s the winter,” said Celia, 74. “And until it comes you just don’t know how much. Financially we’re not that bad but a lot of people will struggle. The cost of living and everything’s going up. A lot of people, if they’ve lost their jobs, where are they going to get the money from?” “It’s going to go up whatever happens,” added Brian, an 80-year-old retired industrial engineer. “I just put the heating on if I need it but not everyone can do that.” Many older people suggested young people were suffering the most. “I think my monthly bills will go up by 50%,” said Judy, 74, a former PA in education. “My electricity is with E.ON and they’ve told me it needs to go up, I’m still waiting on the gas. “You either use the gas or you’re cold which I’m not prepared to be. “The problem is everything has gone up, including food,” she added. “I feel for people who can’t afford the increase - clothing, heating, food, everything’s going up. A lot of people are in poverty now. It’s an awful situation where you have heat or eat. “I feel most sorry for the families just above the limit where they can get help.” “I’m glad I’m at the end and not the beginning,” said Judy as she headed off to finish her shopping. “I feel for my grandchildren. Where are we heading?” Read More Read More