Pensioners in Brighton are pier-ing into the abyss (photo: Mark Brocklehurst)
Pensioners in Brighton are pier-ing into the abyss (photo: Mark Brocklehurst)

Vulnerable people living in the Brighton area are being left in the cold after losing out on a government heating allowance scheme.

Pensioners, severely disabled people and those with young children are eligible for the Cold Weather Payment of £25 per week, but only if living in an area where temperatures are recorded at 0°C or below for seven consecutive days. As Help the Aged warns that the death rate rises by 1% to 2% for every temperature drop of 1°C, many vulnerable people are being refused financial support with their heating.

The Cold Weather Payment scheme was devised by the Department for Work and Pensions and promises to give a total of 3.7 million payments nationwide. Local citizens living at postcodes BN5, BN6 and BN44 are the lucky people to get the payment whilst their nearby neighbours must watch either the mercury or the bank balance fall.

The weather in Sussex is monitored by weather stations based at Charlwood, near Gatwick, Herstmonceux and Thorney Island, in Chichester. The inaccuracy of just a small amount of readings for such a large area is just one feature of the scheme which has come under attack by charity bosses, local MPs and citizens. Paul Bates of Help The Aged told The Argus that the scheme was based upon a “bizarre meteorological calculation” and added that “we would much rather see a significant increase in the basic state pension so that older people can meet their living costs.”

The haphazard nature of how the Cold Weather Payments continue to be distributed does not seem fitting for the grave effects that the recent cold snap can bring. The National Pensioners Convention has warned that 12 pensioners could die every hour in the UK during this winter season. As temperatures drop to lows of -8°C in southern England, the call for a more sustainable and fair payment system grows.

The ‘postcode lottery’ system is not the only factor which has discredited the Cold Weather Payments. Macmillan Cancer Support has said that it is vital for payments to be distributed to those dealing with the effects of cancer and chemotherapy. As the Macmillan website reads, “spending more time at home during recovery, and the effects of the treatment, mean that cancer patients use more fuel to stay warm. This leads to higher bills at a time when they may also be coping with reduced incomes.”

‘Only people living at postcodes BN5, BN6 and BN44 will get the payment’

Overall the increase in Cold Weather Payments should hopefully save lives and help the NHS cope with increased patient numbers. However, the ‘postcode lottery’ used to ascertain eligibility for payments seems to many people an illogical and irresponsible system. Instead of assisting all those that really need help with their bills, the Department for Work and Pensions have devised a system by which a small variance in temperature can mean vulnerable people are left unable to heat their homes.

In an economic climate of great uncertainty, fears about the prospect of an uncertain retirement grow. State pension discrepancies as shown in this case serve as a harsh reminder of the pensioner’s precarious financial position. At The University of Sussex the proposed changes to support staff pensions may well leave them susceptible to such inconsistent support procedures. This article may therefore come as a vivid reminder of how changes to staff pensions may fundamentally affect the lives of people who have worked for this university.

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