/ Home & Energy

Heating or eating – you shouldn’t have to choose

Food as bulbs

In a week when Scottish Power announced 19% price rises comes a report that says the poorest pensioners cut down on food spending to afford heating costs. Have you had to give up on eating to heat your house?

At Which? we’re always looking for the most timely opportunities to tell people about our research. So we reckon the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) must have been pretty pleased when Scottish Power decided to announce a massive hike in the price of energy the day before the IFS published a damning report on the effects of fuel poverty on pensioners.

Included in the respected think tank’s study was the literally chilling figure that, during cold spells, the poorest pensioners cut their food spending by 7% in order to heat their homes.

I’ve heard anecdotes about this ‘heat or eat’ dilemma before, but this is the first time I’ve seen hard statistical evidence of the problem. It should send a clear message to Ofgem and the government about the way the energy market works in this country.

Energy market fails consumers

At this very moment Ofgem happens to be ploughing its way through the responses to its latest investigation into why the energy market is failing consumers.

One of the regulator’s big findings was that up to 60% of people have never switched their supplier – and that vulnerable consumers, like the poorest pensioners, are more likely to be in this group of non-switchers than the average person.

An equally important finding was that switching your supplier for the first time could save you up to £250 a year – easily enough to mean never having to face the awful choice of keeping warm or going hungry.

Choosing the cheapest energy tariff

So why do those who stand to gain the most from switching their supplier not bother? Well, Ofgem reckons that many are put off by just how complex choosing an energy tariff can be – seven in ten people say they find this confusing. At the last count there were over 300 available – an increase of 70% in the last three years.

And it’s not just the number, there’s also a baffling array of ‘components’ – standing charges, tiers of different price rates, discounts, cashback offers, exit fees, and so on – to navigate. Price comparison sites – like Which? Switch – are really the only way to work out which is the cheapest, but only one in five of us use these to search the market.

Oh, and you need to have internet access too – something that would hardly be high on my list of priorities if I had to regularly choose between the boiler and the food cupboard.

In our response to Ofgem’s investigation we’ve told the regulator it needs to make sure tariffs are easy for people to understand and compare at a glance. This means doing away with tiered pricing and complicated discount structures. Only then will pensioners not have to choose between ‘heat and eat’.

Comments
Profile photo of richard
Member

Basically I had to give up Heating to Eat – I can get by using blankets – extra sweaters – spending the day in bed – but I cannot live without food – On £102 a week it is one or the other. I chose food.

Member
pickle says:
11 June 2011

All things in moderation…..Eat sufficiently but not to excess; Heat – well, you don’t need a lot of heat if you wear sufficient warm clothing. Some excercise helps too…
It pains me to see some people out with skimpy clothing in cold weather. Wool is the best insulator – nylon and cotton are nowhere as warm.

Profile photo of richard
Member

Sadly – the amount I can afford to spend on food after all other expenses are paid is around £15 a week – which I think is moderate – in fact I think it is diabolical. If the “big T” had not removed the link between state pension and average wages – My state pension would be around £140 not £102 – the extra £38 would triple the amount I could spend on food or if I saved hard – even on a holiday.

Hate to point out that wool is very expensive to buy – A sweater around £30 – polyester around £10 – Polyester wears well – cleans well and dries fast. Wool doesn’t in comparison. Three polyester sweaters are better than one wool sweater.

Profile photo of ChrisGloucester
Member

It’s a disgrace that any pensioner should have to make this choice. They’ve paid tax and NI all their lives only to be denied basic living requirements in old age.
They certanly should not have to dress like eskimos in order to be able to afford a meal.
Removing “stealth green taxes” (generate the money through normal taxation) and VAT would help, although I expect greedy energy suppliers would soon make up the difference.

Profile photo of Michael100
Member

“””””It’s a disgrace that any pensioner should have to make this choice. They’ve paid tax and NI all their lives only to be denied basic living requirements in old age.
They certanly should not have to dress like eskimos in order to be able to afford a meal””””

Chris, well said.

Member
StuartFelters says:
12 June 2011

In this day and age It should be a basic right for people to be able to afford to eat and keep warm. Since the introduction of privatisation of the utility companies, these basic rights have gradually been taken away from less well off people due to the want for more profit to keep shareholders happy. Re-nationalise the utililities and get the prices we all have to pay back to reasonable amounts.

Profile photo of Michael100
Member

“””””””””””””In this day and age It should be a basic right for people to be able to afford to eat and keep warm. Since the introduction of privatisation of the utility companies, these basic rights have gradually been taken away from less well off people due to the want for more profit to keep shareholders happy. Re-nationalise the utililities and get the prices we all have to pay back to reasonable amounts.””””””””””””

Absolutely bang on StuartFelters

Profile photo of dean
Member

Don’t pensioners receive heating allowance? And bus passes?

I think I would prefer more clarity on what/how much that is before making an opinion on the matter

Profile photo of richard
Member

Yes we receive £250 Winter heating allowance – but the state pension is below the poverty line – If I add this to my state pension I get £102 plus £5 or £107 a week – this then allows me to spend £20 a week for food. after all other expenses except heating (which I cannot afford) – not enough. Can you eat well on £20 a week?

As I can’t afford to go any distance for any form of shopping (I can only afford to buy food) or most visits except the odd free ones – a bus pass is totally useless to me. After all I don’t work.

This year the increase from 97 to 102 or around 4.5% is exactly the rise in CPI so I’m no better off with the rise – In fact I am worse off as real food prices have risen – so the value of my pension that I paid for – for 45 years is decreased further.

Plus If the link with state pension and average wage had not been cut by the Thatcher Regime I would be £38 a week better off and above the poverty line.
.

Profile photo of richard
Member

Interesting it appears there are 2.5 Million state pensioners like me living below the poverty line according to the news today – and we are slowly sinking lower because of rising costs and inflation.

Make you proud to be British doesn’t it? 🙂

Profile photo of Michael100
Member

“”””Interesting it appears there are 2.5 Million state pensioners like me living below the poverty line according to the news today – and we are slowly sinking lower because of rising costs and inflation.

Make you proud to be British doesn’t it? “””””

richard. No!! It makes my blood boil.

Member
ionlywant trains says:
15 June 2011

One step in the right direction would be to ensure that those that use the most fuel pay the most for it. Currently, you either pay a standing charge or more for the first so many units then less for subsequent units.
It would be a better idea to make the subsequent units cost more than the first units. Therefore low users – those in fuel poverty – would pay less for fuel than high users who can afford to use lots of fuel.
Also scrapping pre-pay meters would be useful. I pay via a direct debit, so can spread my gas cost over a year – paying no more in the winter than I do in the summer. This is not possible with a pre-pay meter as you pay immediately for what you use. I’m not sure if basic bank accounts allow direct debits though…

In my next comments, I don’t mean to be rude, I am probably very nieve in my views.
Richard – bus passes for pensioners are free and allow free travel, so i’m not sure why a bus pass is useless to you. It would allow you to get out and about during the day, so use someone else’s fuel to heat their property (such as a library) during the day time. Also, if state pension is your only income and you really are that strapped for cash, shouldn’t you be spending money on fuel and food rather than luxuries like a computer and internet access? unless, of course, you are using these things to save you money on your fuel bills.

Profile photo of brackleshamdavid
Member

Hello ionlywanttrains

It’s about Heat or Eat! A very simple and sadly, true fact of today. It’s blindingly obvious that those who use most pay more, hence this. Some, many, and now most, those whose incomes do not increase pro-rata face a dilema daily, weekly, monthly of which comes first!

Therefore, high usage is not an option. It’s not about living extravagantly. Nor is it about Pre-payment Meters, although I wish sometimes it could be. It’s not about Banks, mores the pity! Alas, it’s not about migrating to others. As to berating bus passes and their usage!!!

To cap it all, it’s not about computors/internet access. It’s about people – like you – who one day find they are on a low or fixed income, matters not why or how, who do find costs rising every day being handed a fait accompli by ‘Suppliers’ of obscene rises when never seeing reductions. Hands outs when they happen have to be applied for and seem like charity, and we have a Parliament unable or unwilling to arrest the situation.

Then we have the onlookers, hecklers, merchants of words of wisdom, who would dabble at something with ill thought pearls. Just kind of makes your day complete!

Best Regards

Profile photo of Michael100
Member

“”””””Hello ionlywanttrains

It’s about Heat or Eat! A very simple and sadly, true fact of today. It’s blindingly obvious that those who use most pay more, hence this. Some, many, and now most, those whose incomes do not increase pro-rata face a dilema daily, weekly, monthly of which comes first!

Therefore, high usage is not an option. It’s not about living extravagantly. Nor is it about Pre-payment Meters, although I wish sometimes it could be. It’s not about Banks, mores the pity! Alas, it’s not about migrating to others. As to berating bus passes and their usage!!!

To cap it all, it’s not about computors/internet access. It’s about people – like you – who one day find they are on a low or fixed income, matters not why or how, who do find costs rising every day being handed a fait accompli by ‘Suppliers’ of obscene rises when never seeing reductions. Hands outs when they happen have to be applied for and seem like charity, and we have a Parliament unable or unwilling to arrest the situation.

Then we have the onlookers, hecklers, merchants of words of wisdom, who would dabble at something with ill thought pearls. Just kind of makes your day complete!

Best Regards”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

brackleshamdavid. Well said. Spot on. Brilliantly observed.

Member
Damn Young says:
6 August 2011

Why are pensioners always whinging? A £250 heating allowance, and they’re complaining. I say force 60 to 65 year old women to pay back the free money they have recieved, and scrub floors until they are 65. If you want to know what poverty is, try being unemployed.

Profile photo of Michael100
Member

Damn Young, If you want to know real poverty in this country, try being born before World War 2, like a lot of elderly people today were.

Young people today are pampered. Their generation havent been tested by war. When you get old, you will be in precisely the same situation as those you deride today, who are old and whinging according to you.

Member
Michelle says:
14 December 2011

I am having to appeal a benefit decision, and until my appeal has been decided, which I am told could potentially take months, I am forced to struggle on £67.50 per week, so I guess i’ll be losing weight and freezing cold, happy days..not…merry christmas…

Profile photo of Michael100
Member

Millions of elderly people in Britain today are having to choose between eating, and heating their homes because the State pension is so low. And what’s more the media are sweeping this issue under the carpet.

Cold kills 200 British pensioners a day during winter. Nine elderly people die from cold related illnesses, against a backdrop of soaring energy bills.

The Government’s future 2016 State pensions policy is inadequate and will be two tier. Today’s pensioners will continue to receive a meagre State pension and means tested handouts, only future pensioners will receive a £144 a week State pension based on contributions made, and means testing will be abolished.

So the UK’s existing 12 million pensioners will continue to be more worse off than their EU counterparts whose State pensions are much higher. I’m sure that a lot of elderly people believe they will be getting this full Universal State pension come April 2016. But they wont. This only applies to new pensioners from 2016.

When The Chancellor announced plans for the new state pension, he and all the media called it the Universal state pension. The rate would be £144 (at today’s rates), and it would be payable to all pensioners from April 2016. Now, that is what myself and others understood Universal to mean.

There was no announcement stating that this would only apply to new pensioners, and more importantly, that the amount payable would still be based on your national insurance contributions – needing 35 years contributions to get the full payment.

Britain is part of Europe at a cost of £60 million per day after net rebate, yet UK pensioners are not allowed to receive and enjoy Europe’s much higher State pensions. This is wrong!. As we are a part of Europe, Britain’s State pension should be upgraded accordingly. There is an EU ruling which says that all pensioners of the EU should be treated the same regardless of where they now live.

At the EU Laeken summit in Belgium in 2001, there was a ratified proposal that all EU member States, of which Britain is one, should endeavour to attain a State pension level of 40 per cent of their median wages as their basic State pension by 2007, and thereafter work toward 60 per cent.

This is how we did in 2007, compared to the rest of Europe.

STATE PENSION AS A PROPORTION OF AVERAGE WAGE 2007 COUNTRY % OF AV EARNINGS.
Greece 95.7 %
Luxemburg 88.3 %
Netherlands 81.9 %
Spain 81.2 %
Denmark 79.8 %
Italy 67.9 %
Sweden 62.1 %
EU AVERAGE 60% %
France 51.2 %
Germany 39.9 %
Estonia 32.9 %
Ireland 32.5 %
UK 30%

This is how we are doing this year, 2013, compared to the rest of Europe.

State pension comparison 2013

Max State Avg% of pension age

Country Pension Pay Avg Men & Woman.
Spain £26,630 £23,491 113% 65 65
Germany £26,366 £29,366 90% 65 65
France £15,811 £29,817 53% 60 60
N’lands £10,981 £35,627 31% 65 65
Denmark £11,381 £45,661 25% 65 65
Ireland £10,415 £41,803 25% 65 65
UK £7,488 £31,413 24% 65 62
Greece £3,756 £17,772 21% 65 65

Nothing has changed for Britain’s pensioners since this ratified proposal was made. Millions of UK pensioners still live in poverty on a much lower State pension than European pensioners receive.

We in Link-Age UK wide are relative younger people taking this issue on, on behalf of our elderly people, wish to urge the Government to stick to the agreement made at the Laeken Summit in 2001, that due to the ratified proposal all member states should endeavour to attain a level of 40% of their median wages as their basic state pension by 2007 and thereafter work towards 60%. and to bring UK State pensions in line with Europe, this should be adhered to.

If you wish to send a message to the Government through their own constituent MP, please contact me after 7pm any evening to receive a “free” copy of a letter to send directly to their MP at the House of Commons, and not their MP’s constituency address, because this is an issue of national importance, it is not a local matter.

People must have a pen and paper at hand when they ring.

The phone number to ring is 01803/ 857020.
Also for those online, there is a petition, “Department for Works and Pensions:. We urge the UK Government to bring UK State pensions in line with Europe

While those who are online, please take 30 seconds to sign it right now?. Here’s the link.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/51449