Fuel poverty fears voiced

HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright fears vulnerable people could die from the cold because they can’t afford to heat their homes this winter.

Mr Wright says he has seen a three-fold increase in people seeking help because they are worried about rising fuel costs as the freezing temperatures bite.

And he today pleaded with those at risk in the tough economic climate not to suffer in silence because they can get help.

It comes as a national Save the Children survey found that families on low incomes fear for their children’s health because of the cold and more than half will consider cutting down on food to pay fuel bills.

Each year scores more people die in Hartlepool during the winter months compared to other seasons.

The latest NHS figures show that between 2006 and 2009, there were an average of 63 excess winter deaths in the town per year, which is a huge rise on the average of 36 deaths recorded between 2005 and 2008.

The Department of Health measures excess winter deaths as the increase in deaths between December and March, compared to the three months of autumn and spring.

People can die from a range of conditions and is most predominant in elderly age groups, although the likes of living conditions are also feared to

be factors.

But there are fears that this could rise even more due to rising fuel costs and the economic climate.

Mr Wright said he has seen three times as many people seeking his help because they are becoming increasingly worried about their ability to pay basic living costs.

He has even seen cases where people are scared of switching on their heating during the winter.

Mr Wright said: “I have seen people coming in and saying they were managing ok and paying the bills, but now people are genuinely concerned. It is getting cold and I’m getting people saying they are concerned of putting the heating on.

“For a civilised society to let this happen is a source of real shame. I’m really frightened about this, I thought we had got rid of the problem of people dying of hypothermia.

“I would say I’m seeing a three-fold increase in people struggling to pay to live and it is not as if people are living extravagant lifestyles. They are worried about living month to month.”

People can get help from the Government and gas and electricity companies to save the cost of energy through insulation schemes or by fixing prices.

Mr Wright said: “I would urge people not to suffer in silence.

“If they have any concerns about being able to keep warm this winter, then speak to me or their energy company to see what’s available out there.

“I’m really keen to help because I don’t want to see people suffer.”

People can contact Mr Wright’s constituency office, in the town’s South Road, on (01429) 224403.