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Harsh times for elderly

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 09:15 20/05/2014

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Senior citizens in Marlborough will struggle this winter with many battling fuel poverty and finding it hard to heat their homes, Age Concern says.

Rising power prices, food bills and rents will mean many older people face a winter of discontent.

Community workers said many lived in houses akin to ice boxes, relied on food parcels and battled social isolation and loneliness.

Age Concern older persons support workers Wendy Lefebre and Marilyn McLeod said it was the tip of the iceberg and the problem could be greater as a result of a stoic older generation in Marlborough who refused to complain or seek help.

The advocacy and signposting service has been busier than ever fielding 100 phone calls a month from older people.

Lefebre said senior citizens were struggling with rising power prices.

"They are of the generation that don't complain. They will heat one room because they can't afford to heat their whole house.

"It breaks my heart when I see older people living in a cold, dark house. By winter they will put themselves to bed early because they can't afford to heat their homes. We visit people in their homes and some are like ice boxes, it is not healthy."

Lefebre said the elderly found it difficult to decipher power contracts and were baffled by jargon they didn't understand.

McLeod said there had been cases of clients paying to change power provider and ending up with a package they didn't need.

Some had chosen to pay their bills fortnightly to avoid paying a "horrific bill", Lefebre said.

McLeod said heat pumps were the most economical option and for safety reasons warned against the elderly using bar or gas heaters.

According to the 2013 census, Marlborough has the highest number of over 65s per capita in New Zealand.

Age Concern estimate 50 per cent of elderly people in Marlborough rented properties. McLeod said with base market rents between $260 to $280 a week, many people didn't have much money left to feed and heat themselves.

One company has been targeting homes in Blenheim on the gambit their heat pump must be cleaned, costing $200.

"It is an absolute ripoff," Lefebre said. "One client felt very threatened by their bullying tactics. When the person refused, the salesman responded ‘Be it on your own back if it blows up'."

McLeod said the client was so flummoxed, they agreed but had asked an Age Concern representative to be in the house when the company carries out the work.

Social isolation and loneliness were major problems of concern in Marlborough. McLeod said she knew a 91-year-old man who sat alone in his house and his only connection with the outside world was a carer.

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Age Concern hopes to run an accredited visitor service that matches volunteers to elderly people, but desperately needs $40,000 financial backing.

Marlborough District Council has recognised the problem and were conducting an audit on activities available for the elderly.

"I question the values of our country towards older people," Lefebre said. "There is not enough of a push to change society and make things better. These people need to be valued. They have a life lived."

- The Marlborough Express

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