Help save lives and battle fuel poverty across Norfolk this winter

Thousands of elderly people are caught in a perfect storm of spiralling fuel bills and cuts to the special allowance designed to help them heat their homes. That's why the EDP is backing Surviving Winter – a campaign to help them do just that.

There are 57 of them in Hoveton, 98 in Holt, and 184 in Hunstanton. There are 116 in Southwold, 135 in Cromer and 197 in Wisbech.

According to the latest research, there are 61,143 households suffering fuel poverty in Norfolk alone, spread across all four corners of the county.

North Norfolk and parts of Yarmouth are the worst-affected areas when it comes to feeling the chill – with deprivation rivalling that of our inner cities.

Parts of Norfolk are feared to have a higher percentage of deaths than the UK average due to fuel poverty. It's the 21st century, but people die each winter because they can't afford to heat their homes.

For others, the consequences include psychological stress, worry and health problems.

Bristol University's Fuel Poverty Indicator charts the thousands of households across East Anglia for whom winter brings misery.

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They're in every village, in every town. The chances are, they might even be one of your neighbours.

Experts fear the true picture could be even worse this year, with fuel bills set to rise by nearly 20pc, while fuel allowances paid to the elderly have fallen from �250 to �200, and from �400 to �300 for those aged over 80.

By the time statistics filter through to researchers, they can be years out of date. Drill down into the latest figures and they're compiled from raw data which is between three and eight years old.

As the economic outlook becomes more wintry and pensions lag behind the real cost of living, things won't have got any better for those living on fixed incomes.

Fuel poverty is defined as those who spend 10pc or more of their income on keeping warm. Heat or eat is a starker name for the dilemma many face when winter arrives.

'We're worried many more people will slip into fuel poverty as incomes fall and bills keep going up,' said Eamon McGrath, of Age UK Norfolk.

'It's a bit of a cliche but it could be a choice between heating and eating for some – the situation is quite bad for a lot of people.'

Many living in the most rural parts of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire are not connected to mains gas. Many use oil-fired boilers to heat their homes, meaning they must buy fuel in bulk instead of being able to spread the cost over the year. Heating oil prices rose by 44pc last winter.

Surviving Winter was launched last year to help those who are struggling to cope. This year campaign groups hope increased awareness of the issue, raised in the EDP last October, will boost donations.

In Norfolk, the scheme is being run by Age UK Norfolk and the Norfolk Community Foundation.

Foundation director Graham Tuttle said: 'We're hoping it might be possible to raise six figures so we can help as many people as possible.

'Last year, the Surviving Winter Campaign raised �7,500. This year we hope to reach �25,000.'

Often, a few hundred pounds is all it takes to spare an elderly person from enduring a miserable winter.

One of those helped by the fund last year was a woman in her early 70s, living in a home with oil-fired heating.

She was given a �250 grant because she couldn't afford the minimum amount needed for delivery. She had no savings and only �150 in the bank and her monthly pension from which she needed to buy food and other esssentials and pay her bills.

Another was a severely-disabled man in his 60s, who had run up a fuel debt with British Gas.

A grant was awarded to help reduce the amount he owed, so he could manage his monthly payments.

As well as those who need all the help they can get to pay their bills, the Winter Fuel Allowance is not means tested and is also paid to more affluent households.

Mr Tuttle said the fund also provided those receiving the payments, who don't feel they need them, with a way of donating the money to those in greater need.

Look East presenter Stewart White was one of the first to donate to this year's scheme.

'I know there are lots of older people who have worked hard all their lives but who now find themselves in fuel poverty,' he said.

'For them winter must be a miserable time. I think it's an excellent idea that people who can afford to help do so.'

Speaking at the campaign launch in Norwich last month the Right Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said: 'We are calling for generosity from people for whom this money isn't crucial.'

As Surviving Winter gets under way for a second year, please do the same if you can by filling in the form on this page.

A similar campaign is launched in Suffolk through Age UK Suffolk and the Suffolk Foundation. Contact the Suffolk campaign at: The Suffolk Foundation, Old Reading Rooms, The Green, Grundisburgh, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP13 6TA, www.suffolkfoundation.org.uk

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