Government must expand support for terminally ill people facing the scourge of fuel poverty
The energy price cap increase will hit terminally ill people, not just in their pockets, but by robbing them of time with their loved ones.
Most of us say we would wish to spend our last weeks and months of life at home. When we picture what that time might be like, we would not expect that picture to include worries over living in a cold home or struggles to pay for the cost of heating.
For thousands of people living with terminal illness, however, this is the sad reality at the end of life – as many as 40% of households at risk of fuel poverty include somebody living with a long-term illness or disability.
This year will see many more terminally ill people at risk of spending a miserable winter struggling to stay warm and meet ever-rising fuel costs. There are no two ways about it, the energy regulator Ofgem’s decision to raise the energy price cap last month will push many more terminally ill people into fuel poverty. After 18 months of living with the Covid-19 pandemic, with many people’s incomes having been hit hard, this decision could not have come at a worse time.
Nobody nearing the end of life should have to face the prospect of spending their final weeks and months in a cold home
Anybody can find themselves facing fuel poverty but people living with a terminal illness are at particular risk. Not only are nearly two-thirds of those with a terminal illness reliant on benefits as their main course of income as their illness forces them to give up work, but their average energy bill doubles after their terminal diagnosis.
Many of the most common terminal illnesses make people feel the cold more, meaning that a dying person – who is likely spending more time at home – has to heat their home to a higher temperature, and for longer than before, even during the warmer months.
People living with terminal illness across the UK are forced into the impossible dilemma of turning their heating down and experiencing adverse health effects from their cold environment, or, going without food or paying other bills to meet their energy costs. This vicious cycle can even hasten a person’s death.
As a recent report from the APPG for Terminal Illness found, it is shamefully the poorest in our society who are most at risk of falling into this trap at the end of their lives. The APPG’s conclusions were stark – many of the support schemes designed to help people at risk of fuel poverty are too inflexible to help those with a terminal illness, meaning thousands are missing out on getting any support at all.
That’s why Marie Curie welcomes the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s recent consultation on changes to the Warm Home Discount scheme. We believe that the UK government can, and must, go further with its proposals. Everyone living with a terminal illness and in need of financial support as a result of low income should get automatic access to the Warm Home Discount, which would provide a £150 discount on their energy bills over the winter.
It is a national injustice that thousands of people with a terminal illness already face fuel poverty as a result of soaring energy bills and falling income. Nobody nearing the end of life should have to face the prospect of spending their final weeks and months in a cold home, struggling to afford their heating bills, and no family should have to face the prospect of a loved one dying sooner than they might have due to the impact of living in a cold home.
Ofgem’s decision to raise the energy price cap will extend that injustice to many more people in their last months of life. It is now vital that the government takes steps to expand the support it offers people facing the scourge of fuel poverty, to protect the many more terminally ill and other people who will unavoidably be at risk as the cap is raised.
Mark Jackson is Marie Curie’s Policy and Public Affairs Manager.
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