Jun 10, 2022

Elderly at risk of dying in their homes amid freezing temperatures and soaring fuel prices

Elderly at risk of dying in their homes amid freezing temperatures and soaring fuel prices

Elderly Australians are dying in their homes because they can’t afford to heat them, says the leader of Victoria’s social advocacy body.

Emma King, CEO of Victorian Council of Social Services, told Melbourne’s 3AW last week that dozens of people die from hypothermia in their own homes every year.

A 2019 report by The Alfred and Monash Universities revealed a significant number of older Australians suffered from hypothermia because they could not afford to turn on their heating.

One patient was admitted to hospital with a body temperature of only 24 degrees, Ms King said.

Researchers have found that older people or people with health conditions are more likely to die from hypothermia than younger people with the condition.

Between 2009 and 2016, 217 people were admitted to hospital for hypothermia. The majority were found indoors.

“Their own homes weren’t warm or safe places to be,” said Ms King.

The recent sharp increase in the cost of energy at the same time fuel and food prices are soaring is likely to lead vulnerable people to make the difficult decision not to turn on their heating.

She said the freezing temperatures and high fuel and energy costs are “impacting everyone, but it’s particularly impacting people on low incomes,” Ms King said.

Temperatures in Victoria and along the east coast of Australia have been the coldest in 80 years and we are seeing the highest gas and power prices in decades.

Ms King advised anyone struggling to pay their power bills to contact their energy retailer straight away and to make sure they access any concessions they are entitled to.

Ms King said her concerns are shared by doctors and health organisations.

“It’s critically important [older people] stay safe and stay warm,” she said. 

“These are unprecedented times. It’s about what matters to households right now. They’re not interested in who’s blaming who for supply.”

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