The Welsh Government is continuing to exclude older people on the lowest incomes from its Winter Fuel Support Scheme, which provides a £200 payment to at-risk households to help with the soaring costs of fuel. This lack of support for older people from the Welsh Government risks exacerbating existing inequalities and putting at risk the health and well-being of some of the most vulnerable older people in Wales.
The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales is joining forces with a range of other organisations, including Age Cymru, the Bevan Foundation, Citizens Advice Cymru, Care and Repair Cymru, National Energy Action Cymru and Oxfam Cymru, to call for the eligibility for the Scheme to be extended to include older people claiming Pension Credit.
Latest figures show that nearly 1 in 5 older people in Wales are living in poverty, and those claiming Pension Credit have a weekly income of only £177.10 for a single person or £270.30 for a couple. Without any opportunities to supplement this income, the only option available to cope with the catastrophic increases in fuel costs is for these households to cut back on using their heating or on other essentials, such as food. These impacts are likely to be worst felt by older women, especially those who are living alone, who are at higher risk of already living in poverty.
The schemes already in place to support older people have been depreciating in value over the last 20 years and were designed to support households to cope with regular costs of fuel, rather than the extraordinary levels we are seeing this winter.
The situation is even worse for the estimated 4 in 10 people eligible for Pension Credit who do not claim what they are entitled to. The Welsh Government therefore needs to take further action to increase awareness of how to claim and work with partner organisations to ensure that older people are supported to claim what they are entitled to.
For those older people in severe financial difficulties, the Welsh Government’s Discretionary Assistance Fund is available to provide support, however, more must be done to raise awareness of this fund’s existence and the Welsh Government should simplify and widen the eligibility criteria to provide support to more households.
With further increases in the fuel price cap expected over the coming months, the Welsh Government must develop an action plan for winter 2022-23 to ensure that older people are provided with the financial support they need, ahead of the winter months, and that measures are put in place to tackle the wider determinants of fuel poverty, including expanding programmes to improve the energy efficiency of older people’s homes.
Without additional support, many older people on the lowest incomes will be facing the difficult and dangerous choice between heating or eating, potentially putting their mental and physical health at risk and needing additional support from health and social care services. The Welsh Government has an opportunity to support these older people by taking the actions outlined in this statement and in particular, extending the eligibility for the Winter Fuel Support Scheme to include older people claiming Pension Credit.
Heléna Herklots CBE, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales
Victoria Lloyd, Chief Executive, Age Cymru
Dr Victoria Winckler, Director, Bevan Foundation
Rebecca Woolley, Director, Citizens Advice Cymru
Chris Jones, Chief Executive, Care & Repair Cymru
Ben Saltmarsh, Head of Wales, National Energy Action Cymru
Sarah Rees, Head of Oxfam Cymru