The elderly will turn off their heating to save on energy bills, charities fear, amid a severe cold snap that could see up to ten centimetres of snowfall in the south east on Sunday.
The UK Health Security Agency has extended a Level 3 cold weather warning until Friday, with the Met Office forecasting that London, Essex, Sussex, Kent and Surrey would all experience snowfall on Saturday.
Temperatures could plummet to as low as -10C with wintry downpours and “freezing fog” expected, in a weather front dubbed the “Troll of Trondheim”.
Age UK said that even before the cold snap, pensioners were confining themselves to one room and cutting back on other bills to afford heating.
A survey for the charity has found that 62 per cent of older people aged 60 and over have had to cut back on heating or powering their home recently to make ends meet and that 57 per cent of the same group are worried about very cold weather.
Caroline Abrahams, the charity’s director, urged pensioners to avoid the temptation to turn off the heating to save money.
She said: “With energy bills rocketing it is understandable that many older people might think they have no option but to turn their heating off this winter, however, prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can have a substantial impact on older people’s health.
“This is dangerous as ageing bodies find it harder to adjust to big changes in temperature, particularly when coping with ill health or mobility issues. The cold raises blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke and breathing in cold air can also increase the risk, and impact, of serious illnesses like flu and pneumonia.”
— Met Office (@metoffice) December 9, 2022
Ruthe Isden, the charity’s Health Influencing Programme Director said: “People are talking to us about the fact they’re staying in bed for pretty much the whole day. That’s hugely risky. Older people lose muscle really fast if they’re immobile. The fact people are spending 22, 23 hours a day in bed to keep warm is going to have a big impact.
“Lots of people are saying they’re sitting in the dark, they’re not turning on lights and appliances. Lots of people are saying they’re cutting back on meals, they’re not turning on their heating enough, they’re cutting back on energy.”
Among those worried about the cold snap is Fiona, 72, a former bank worker, who lives alone in Doncaster and is only leaving her bedroom to cook and wash to save money. Her gas and electricity bill has more than doubled from £90 to £216 a month.
“I’m dreading it,” she said. “I’m disabled so getting out in winter is difficult anyway. I normally turn the heating on for two hours but am going to have to turn it on all day. It’s going to be a nightmare, but you can’t have the house sitting below zero. I really don’t know what I can cut back on, I’ve done everything I possibly can.”
John Palmer, of the Independent Age charity, said he was already aware of people “rationing” their electricity.
“We know lots of older people are very worried about the cold weather. Many are already rationing their heating because they can’t afford to turn it on. As temperatures plummet, this could make their health worse. We’re advising people to try to keep their home temperature to at least 18 degrees all the time, use a hot water bottle at night and layer clothes and blankets to keep the heat in.”
The Met Office has issued a yellow snow and ice warning for London and south east England on Sunday and Monday after identical warnings in other parts of the country.
It said the cold weather will lead to icy and potentially treacherous conditions before tapering off towards Monday morning. The forecaster warned of transport issues in the built-up parts of the south east, which is “less robust” than other parts of the country that are likely to get snowfall such as Scotland and the North of England. There is a small chance of power cuts or rural communities becoming cut off.