Pensioners are choosing between food and warmth
Value Added Tax (VAT) on household energy bills must be scrapped to prevent pensioners having to choose between heating and eating, campaigners and charities claim.
Hypothermia deaths in Britain doubled since the start of the credit crisis, according to figures from the NHS Information Centre, which show that three quarters of those affected are aged over 60. Nearly 1,900 people suffering from hypothermia were admitted to hospital last year and 260 died within 30 days.All told, cold weather and many people’s difficulties keeping warm contributed toward nearly 26,000 deaths last winter, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), despite Britain remaining one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Michelle Mitchell, a director of the charity Age UK described these figures as a ‘disgrace’ and said: “We like to think of ourselves as a civilised society which protects the most vulnerable but the numbers of older people who do not survive the winter here is far higher than most European countries where the weather is far colder.”
As reported in this space last November, Prime Minister David Cameron and Chris Huhne, who was Energy Secretary at the time, criticised energy companies for adding £100 to average annual fuel bills at a high profile ‘energy summit’. But then the Government cut winter fuel payments to pensioners by £100.
With friends like politicians, pensioners scarcely need enemies. Dr Ros Altmann, director general of Saga, commented: “Warm words from Ministers do not heat old people’s homes. While holding meetings to discuss this problem, they also presided over a cut of £100 in winter fuel payments to the over 80s.”Now comparison website uSwitch.com is stepping up the pressure for change with new calculations that show how the Government could do twice as much as the energy companies it criticises to cut the cost of keeping warm. It reckons energy suppliers have reduced their bills by an average of £34 a year but that zero-rating household fuel for VAT – in the same way as food or water – would cut bills by a further £60 a year.
Ann Robinson, a director at uSwitch.com, said: “Removing VAT from our energy bills would help to alleviate the growing financial pressure that consumers are coming under this winter and snatch 250,000 households from the grip of fuel poverty.
“Cutting bills by 5pc by removing VAT would provide immediate relief and would send a clear message to the ‘squeezed middle’, the ‘working poor’ and the fuel poor that their concerns are not going unheard.
Now that the average household is spending more than £1,200 a year on keeping warm – and rising numbers of older and poorer people are being forced to choose between heating and eating – it’s high time the taxman shared some of the pain.
Warm words from politicians are cold comfort and no substitute for action. Bringing the tax on household fuel into line with zero-rated VAT on water and food makes sense – they are all necessities of life – and could bring immediate help to thousands of people suffering unnecessarily this winter.