Stay warm this winter

Les Jones
Les Jones
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A CAMPAIGN to help vulnerable people stay warm in their homes during cold weather has been praised.

Led by Cleveland Fire Brigade, the annual Stay Safe and Warm campaign raises awareness of the dangers faced by people who struggle to keep warm during the winter months.

The aim is to provide vulnerable people with emergency equipment such as heaters and blankets and advice and to signpost them to other agencies to tackle long-term fuel poverty problems.

Since this year’s campaign launched in October it has already helped 174 people across the district, including lending 142 heaters and 42 thermal blankets.

Each year thousands of people die because they can’t keep warm due to either faulty heating or worries about the cost of fuel force them to turn their heating off or down to unsafe levels.

Cleveland Fire Brigade’s campaign was discussed at a meeting of the new shadow health and well-being board, which brings together the NHS, local authority and health watchdogs.

Households are classed as being in fuel poverty if they spend more than 10 per cent of their income on keeping the house adequately warmed.

Fuel poverty affects three million people nationally and 300,000 households in the North- East – or 29 per cent of the population.

It was also revealed that 25,000 people die each year in what is classed as an “excess winter death”, including 139 in the Cleveland area.

The Stay Safe and Warm campaign has been running for the past four winters.

Les Jones, Cleveland Fire Brigade’s head of community safety, said: “Being able to keep warm at home can literally be a matter of life and death and it is vital that we identify those at risk so we can take swift action to keep them safe.”

He said they work with between 50 and 60 different agencies and gain access to the most vulnerable, who are either self-referred or urgently referred.

In 2010-11, 224 urgent referrals were received and 398 people supported.

Partners include Cleveland Police, Age UK and Cleveland Fire Support Network.

Labour Hartlepool Borough Councillor Jonathan Brash said: “Cleveland Fire Brigade provide a fantastic service and they do a lot of brilliant work in the community.

“The levels of fuel poverty are frightening and they will only go one way with energy prices.”

He added there was a clear link between poor housing and health and that the right insulation and type of boiler would make a “big difference”.

Labour councillor Ged Hall said there was a cluster of referrals in the town centre and that there was an issue with landlords in the private and social sector.

Caroline O’Neill, the council’s assistant director of performance and achievement, said there was a link between child poverty and poor heating which affects their well-being as well as their health.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright recently told of his fears that people cannot afford to heat their homes and that vulnerable people could die from the cold.

Mr Wright said he has seen a three-fold increase in people seeking help because they are worried about rising fuel costs.

He urged those at risk not to suffer in silence.

For more information call Cleveland Fire Brigade on (01429) 874063.