Monday, 25 March 2013

The snowy weather causes problems for us all, but it’s especially tough for the elderly.

Twenty-four thousand people died from the cold last winter, 80% of whom were aged over 75. Now spiralling energy bills and the Government’s assault on disability benefits are making things even tougher for pensioners, as well as those with long-term illnesses.

If you have elderly neighbours, why not take a leaf out of our Spennymoor activists’ book and see if they need a helping hand surviving the spring snow?

Here are some suggestions of ways to help:

Make sure they’re warm enough

If your elderly neighbour or relative’s house feels cold, make sure they have a blanket they can use to keep warm if they’re frightened of using too much fuel. If they have an open fireplace, ask if they are well stocked with coal and wood. (Also, make sure they’re using a fireguard.) Make sure they have adequate heating, and offer to lend them a portable heater if necessary.

Sadly, some old folk won’t even cook themselves a hot meal because of lack of food or because of worries about energy. So why not cook a hot meal at your place and take it over?

Do some shopping

Offer to help out with the weekly shop. Getting to and from the shops in icy conditions can be very dangerous for the elderly. If they’re too proud to accept your help, offer to make sure they have enough of basic foodstuffs like bread and milk. It’s especially important to look out for old folk who live in rural areas and might be isolated and cut off from amenities.

Take the lead

If your neighbour has a dog, offer to take him or her for a walk. This will save your neighbour from the cold weather as well as giving the dog some much-needed exercise.

Clear the paths

If it snows again this year, you can help by clearing the paths of the elderly people in your neighbourhood.

County Durham BNP activists lead by example

Medical supplies

Offer to pick up prescriptions on your elderly neighbour’s behalf, or see if they need a lift to the doctor’s. Also, ask if need have enough medical supplies to last a cold snap.

Check their safety arrangements

Offer to check if their smoke alarm is working. Push the button, and make sure the alarm sounds. If they smoke, remind them never to do so in bed or when tired, and to make sure cigarettes are fully extinguished in an ash tray. Check your neighbours’ cooking practices. Remind them never to leave cooking unattended and ensure the cooker is turned off before they leave the house or go to bed.

Check whether your neighbour has an open fire. If so, ensure they use a fire guard. If they use a portable heater, remind them not to sit too close, as fabric can catch fire. Also remind them not to leave it turned on overnight.

Look out for warning signs

Keep an eye out for warning signs like newspapers or mail piling up, closed curtains or no rubbish being put out. These could mean something is wrong. Make a point of checking in on elderly neighbours and relatives, and make sure they have your phone number close to hand in case they do run into difficulties.

Just be there to talk to

Just popping round for a chat and a cup of tea might be the most important contribution you can make. It’s estimated that one million pensioners in the UK spend winter alone, so showing that someone still cares can make all the difference.

Grants and benefits checks

Those in need may also be able to claim financial and practical help with heating their home. Grants available include the Winter Fuel Payments and Cold Weather Payments.

Winter Fuel Payments of up to £300 are available if you were born on or before July 5 1951. For more information, call 08459 151515 or visit this website.

Cold Weather Payments may be available to you if you receive certain benefits or have a child who is disabled or under the age of five. Find out more by phoning your local JobCentre Plus or visit their website.

The Energy Saving Trust has advice on how to reduce bills and make your home more energy efficient. Contact the Trust on 0300 123 1234 or visit their website.

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