Exclusive polling shows that three quarters of people will be cutting back on their heating, which has led to fears that the vulnerable in particular will suffer from conditions related to the cold and damp. ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports.
There is no doubt the cost of living crisis has begun to affect pretty much everyone we know. Weekly food bills going up, monthly pay packets feeling smaller and smaller, energy bills increasing and mortgages set to rise.
But have you ever stopped to think about the cost of staying alive? For some, this is a very real concern and one which is getting harder to sustain.
Take Ron for instance. He has severe lung disease and was given three to five years to live back in 2014. He’s still going strong and is on the waiting list for a double lung transplant. While he waits though, his lungs are deteriorating. One way to ensure his condition doesn’t get worse is to keep his home at the same temperature, 24 hours a day. That means the heating has to be on in every room, throughout the day and night. He is also connected to an oxygen machine, which is constantly plugged in and using electricity.
Both he and his wife are terrified of the costs this winter and say they have already stopped using the oven, are only buying marked-down food and have stocked up on thermals and thick jumpers.
'It's going to be 50-60% of our income' - Ron says he and his wife will spend at least half their income on energy bills
Ron and Maxine don’t have the choice like some do, they have to keep the heating on or Ron could die. It’s as simple as that. So they’re cutting back elsewhere, mostly in food, but there is little more they can do. They’re even hoping their family can help them out.
Amit is in a similar situation. He has kidney failure and does dialysis four times a week for three hours at a time. He is able to do it at home, allowing him to hold down a full-time job, giving him freedoms he wouldn’t have if he had to travel to hospital to do it.
'I've got no chance - if I don't do my treatment I won't survive' - Amit faces going into hospital for his kidney dialysis as costs soar
But the machine he uses is turned on six hours before it's used, and needs electricity and water. He doesn’t yet know what his bills will increase to in October but any increase could mean having to go back into hospital for the treatment. Like Ron, Amit doesn’t have a choice, he needs to use his utilities or he will die. He could cut back on food but he is limited to a certain diet in order to remain fit and healthy. The choices they are making every day are life and death choices. They cannot, as Boris Johnson once said, just buy a new kettle; their medical equipment is quite simply their lifeline.
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma + Lung UK, says people are already 'very worried' about the impact the cost of living is having on their health
Sadly, Ron and Amit are not alone. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has warned that thousands of people will die this winter because of heating costs and food bills. In an exclusive survey they commissioned for ITV News, they found 75% of people plan to use less heating this winter. Only 22% said they would be able to afford to heat their home more, if they needed to stay healthy. And tragically 14% said they wouldn’t be able to heat their home as needed because of the cost, despite the risk to their health.
'The cost for staying alive for people with kidney problems costs more than for other people' - Fiona Loud, policy director of Kidney Care UK, says rising energy costs are putting a lot of pressure on people living with kidney conditions
What Ron and Amit say they need is targeted support right now. It’s very hard to disagree with this. They are two men fighting to stay alive and they are terrified they will become victims of this cost-of-living crisis if they don’t get it.
Dr Andrew Goddard, the former president of the RCP, told me that this winter will be the worst anyone of his generation will have seen. He fully expects there to be substantially more deaths than the 10,000 we usually see during the winter months due to living in cold, damp conditions. This is the sort of warning, from one of our most senior clinicians, we should be listening to. But is anyone listening? The Department of Health says it is. It points to the two-year energy price guarantee and the removal of green levies, as well as their move to freeze prescription charges.
A government spokesperson said: "We are taking action to support people with the rising cost of living – our new two-year Energy Price Guarantee, together with the temporary removal of green levies, will save the average household £1,000 a year. “We have also frozen prescription charges for the first time in 12 years, while almost 89% of prescription items in England are already provided free of charge. “Financial support is available for those using medical equipment at home, such as home dialysis treatments, to help meet energy costs.”
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