Over half of people aged 60 plus in England are likely to be dreading the cold weather this winter with those at the bottom of the social scale twice as likely to be fearing a cold spell as the richest, new research from Age UK reveals today (1).

As the Charity launches its Spread the Warmth campaign to help people in later life stay warmer this winter, the research provides further evidence of the struggle millions of older people are likely to face over the coming months.

While recent figures showed the number of older households in fuel poverty in England has risen to 1.7 million, the new survey suggests worries about paying for heating bills are far more widespread. Two in five people aged over 60 (4.6 million) say they are concerned about being able to afford their energy bills, while nearly a third (3.6 million) are likely to resort to extreme measures to keep warm: last winter, almost one in three over-60s took drastic actions to fend off the cold, including wearing coats and scarves inside (15%), living in just one room to contain the heat (11%), staying in bed during the day (4%) and going to a public library (2%).

The figures also reveal that social class makes a huge difference to older people's experience of winter. Not only are those at the bottom of the scale twice as likely as those at the top to dread the cold weather (66% ABs vs 33% DEs), they are also over three times as likely to say they 'couldn't get warm' last winter (14% vs 4%), almost three times as likely to have 'cut down on going out with friends and families' (8% vs 3%) and nearly three times as likely to have lived in just one room to contain the heating (17% vs 6%). Fears of a particularly cold weather come against a backdrop of rising excess winter deaths among the over-65s in England, which soared by nearly 50 per cent between 2007-08 and 2008-09 following an extremely harsh winter (2).

To help alleviate this needless suffering Age UK has launched its Spread the Warmth campaign. Running throughout the winter, the campaign will focus on helping older people stay warm as well as reminding neighbours and friends of what they can do to help. Age UK can help by providing advice, support and practical services to cope with issues like heating, health and human contact.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director of Age UK, said:

'What lies behind this widespread fear of cold weather are pressing social issues, such as nearly two million pensioners living in poverty and millions of older households anxious about being able to afford keeping warm this winter.

'While the Government's decision to protect Winter Fuel Payments will make a big difference to the lives of many low-income older people this winter, our research shows there is still some way to go to take the fear out of winter.

'Through the Spread the Warmth campaign we want to raise awareness of the difficulties many older people face in winter and let them know that Age UK can help them. We want as many people as possible to get involved in our campaign so we can offer the best support to those older people who need it.'

Penny Smith, TV presenter and Age UK Ambassador, said:

'I'm supporting Age UK's Spread the Warmth campaign because I feel really strongly that no older person should be shivering away in 21st century Britain. I want as many people as possible to get involved so that, together, we can make a real difference to those in later life who suffer needlessly at this time of year.'

Information on Spread the Warmth

Older people and their families can call Age UK Advice for free information and support on 0800 169 65 65, where they can also order a free copy of 'Winter Wrapped Up', a guide sponsored by British Gas. Alternatively they can visit spreadthewarmth to download the guide and get more information. To find out about the help and support available locally, people should phone or visit their local Age UK or Age Concern - details of which can be found by calling 0800 169 87 87 or by visiting ageuk.

There are lots of ways to help Age UK Spread the Warmth this winter. People can make a donation simply by calling 0800 169 87 87 or visiting spreadthewarmth. They can also download a copy of The Choirgirl Isabel's Christmas single 'You are not Alone' from Monday 13 December. Or people could de-clutter their wardrobe for a good cause. There are more than 500 Age UK high street shops across the country that would be delighted to receive once-loved quality clothing, accessories, home wares, CDs and books for someone else to love again.

1) TNS OmniBus survey of 1,154 people aged 60+ in England

2) Excess winter deaths in 2008/09 for people aged 65+ were 31,100, up 48.3% from 2007/08. These are the latest estimated figures for excess winter mortality in England in 2008/09 from Office for National Statistics. Winter deaths among older people caused by the cold are mainly due to breathing problems, such as bronchitis, heart attack or stroke

Omnibus research was conducted by TNS on behalf of Age UK. TNS interviewed a sample of 1,154 people aged 60+ in England. Face to face interviews were conducted between 20th-26th October 2010. TNS is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Age UK

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