Soaring energy prices are expected to plunge a further 2,000 households in Leeds into fuel poverty this winter – taking the total across the city to around 60,000.
Almost half of those affected are over 60, with experts predicting around 24,000 Leeds pensioners will struggle to heat their properties and more than 27 people across Yorkshire and the Humber will die EVERY DAY from illnesses caused by being too cold in their own homes.
The harsh reality of fuel poverty here in Leeds is that tens of thousands of people will be forced to spend more than 10 per cent of their income just to keep warm – with many facing the bleak choice between heating or eating.
And for vulnerable people like the elderly and very young – coping with the cold can lead to serious health problems, and even death.
In winter 2010-2011 there were 2,500 “excess winter deaths” in Yorkshire and the Humber – meaning around 27 people died every day who would not have been expected to die during this period.
More than 20 of those people dying each day were aged 75 and over.
And Solo, chief executive of Age UK Leeds, fears this winter’s death toll will be even worse.
He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I’m expecting that number to increase.
“And I would suggest the number of homes that are experiencing fuel poverty, including financial poverty, would be much, much higher.”
He labelled the situation “unacceptable” and added: “This problem is not going to go away.
“It’s going to get worse because energy prices have gone up and from what I’m seeing, predictions from the Met Office look like we are starting to prepare for a really cold winter.”
In 2010-2011 there were nearly three times as many “excess winter deaths” – those directly related to the cold weather – as there were from accidents in the region.
And 70 per cent of those “excess” deaths – 1,800 of the 2,500 – were people aged 75 and over.
In Britain a cold spell during a mild winter is followed by a sudden rise in heart attacks; five days later by a big rise in strokes; and 12 days later by a big rise in respiratory illness.
In 2010, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said 57,025 households in Leeds were fuel poor – 17.2 per cent of the city’s homes.
But George Munson, Leeds City Council’s energy and climate change manager, said rocketing energy bills – some of which are set to rise by more than 9 per cent – could see that number increase by around four per cent, to 59,306 Leeds homes.
According to a Government-commissioned report, 7.8m people in the UK could not afford their energy bills in 2009 and this is due to rise to 8.5m by 2016.
Residents in privately-rented homes are most likely to suffer, closely followed by those in social housing, while owner occupiers have the lowest levels of fuel poverty.
Ron Campbell, National Energy Action chief policy analyst, said: “Millions of UK households are dreading the coming winter as energy costs reach unprecedented levels and families must make impossible choices between a warm and healthy home and paying for other essentials such as food and housing costs.”
But Solo said the picture was not entirely bleak as there was plenty of help on offer.
He said: “I want to focus on preventative actions that people can take – to keep themselves safe and warm.
“There are agencies who can access resources – Care & Repair Leeds has got funding to repair and replace boilers this year.
“And there are practical things we can do, like ensuring people are accessing benefits and prescription collection services.”
Mr Munson said the council had also been working all year round to prevent residents from suffering this winter.
It has teamed up with health workers to provide support for people with existing health problems, deemed at risk of developing cold-related ill health; installed energy-efficiency measures in many homes and provided emergency heating repairs.
A new survey by the Local Government Association found elderly people are in danger of being stripped of their dignity and assets because of a failure to tackle how care is funded.