Help the Elderly and Vulnerable to Stay Warm This Winter
Medical advances and a better understanding of how to look after our health mean that we’re all enjoying longer lives, but while this is something to be celebrated, a growing percentage of the population is at increased risk of general and seasonal illnesses. According to Age UK, 15 million adults in Britain are now aged 60 or over. They’re the most vulnerable social group to winter conditions like colds, flu or pneumonia and at serious risk of exacerbating age-related heart and circulatory conditions, often with fatal outcomes. Statistics show that on average, 210 older adults die every day; that’s someone’s elderly friend or relative “every 7 minutes.” In most cases, their deaths, which Age UK report are largely attributable to inadequate insulation and heating in the home, are completely preventable. Fuel poverty, which now affects more than 1 million adults in the UK, makes addressing some of those home heating inadequacies incredibly difficult but staying warm throughout winter can literally make the difference between life and death.
Short-term, Low-cost Solutions
Hot water bottles, electric blankets and warm clothing, as well as regular hot meals and drinks, can provide the short-term boost of warmth older individuals need to keep their core temperature up and their circulatory system healthy. However, although they offer some short-term comforts and can help to keep home heating bills down, they’re not practical or reliable alternatives to the proper heating and home insulation setup that’s necessary to see a person through weeks and months of cold weather.
Home Heating and Insulation
Ideally, living areas should be maintained at 18-21˚C and although any sort of wood-burning stove, home gas fire or portable heater can generate that sort of heat, they can be costly to run and their warmth is generally confined to one or two rooms. Make sure your house is properly insulated to retain the heat. You can build the insulation into the walls yourself if you know what you’re doing and you are staying safe with the right tools and equipment (you can find a selection of tools at SGS). Central heating can offer a cheaper, more reliable alternative but old or poorly maintained systems can be ineffective and expensive to run. Ask a plumber to carry out a quick health check on your central heating system to make sure there are no airlocks in radiators, that the boiler is operating safely and that any heating pumps are running the system efficiently to generate heat and hot water and provide value for money. However, even the best central heating system will struggle to generate and regulate warmth where it’s needed if the property’s insulation is inadequate. Most interior heat will leak out through windows, doors and roofs, but insulation can trap it inside to keep homes warmer and bills down. It’s estimated that loft insulation could reduce annual bills by £125 and cavity wall insulation could reduce them by £155. Private tenants or homeowners on certain income-related benefits are entitled to have loft and wall insulation fitted for free under the government’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme.
In addition to adding insulation, switch any lightweight curtains to thermal or heavy-backed alternatives, lag any pipes and block any window, door or letterbox draughts with excluders. These are available from most local DIY stores for around £5 to £20. Hire a plumber to ensure that all the plumbing is installed correctly and hot water is coming through properly.
In addition to the ECO scheme, there are several other financial grants and benefits available for older adults and vulnerable people who need help to keep their homes warm throughout winter, including:
Winter Fuel Allowance
Any adult-born before 1953 is entitled to a winter fuel payment of between £100 and £300. To check your eligibility and claim any payments you haven’t yet received, visit the government’s Winter Fuel Payment service online.
Boiler Replacement Scheme
If your boiler is more than 5 years old, then a free or heavily discounted replacement may also be available via the government’s ECO scheme. You can check your eligibility and make an application for a new boiler at www.boilergrants.org.uk.
Switch Energy Supplier
Getting the best price for gas and electric has never been easier. To find out if you’re on the best tariff, visit Which? Switch, where you can compare deals and change supplier in a matter of minutes.
Finally, if you’re concerned about the welfare of an elderly or vulnerable person in your area then please contact your local Social Services department.
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