Sunday, 10 January 2010

Pensioners are tackling poverty by burning books to keep warm

Every once in a while I come across a news story that makes me do a genuine double-take - and this week's news that some pensioners are handling the cold weather, and the high cost of fuel,  by burning books to keep warm, certainly came into that category.

Of course books, especially hard-backs, make excellent fuel in an open fire, and there's certainly no shortage of them (yet!) - just look in any charity shop window - but the real story here is the grinding fuel poverty faced by thousands of older people.

A story of such symbolic magnitude really ought to shame the Government into taking some urgent action to help people on low incomes heat their homes. 

With the coldest winter in 40 years upon us, more and more people are finding it difficult to keep their homes warm. The truth is that average household energy bills have more than doubled in the past five years, but energy companies are making record profits. 

Greens want to see the government take immediate action in two key ways:

- A windfall tax on energy companies to increase funding available for domestic energy efficiency measures

- Obligations on energy companies to automatically offer older people on low incomes lower social tariffs to help bring bills down

Last winter saw 36,700 excess winter deaths, an increase of nearly 50 per cent on the previous year and the highest for a decade. With temperatures reaching record lows, this tragic figure is likely to worsen this time around.

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