Seniors dying from hypothermia: advocates demand urgent government action

Falling behind: Inadequate energy supplement/age pension leaving older Australians in the cold


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ENERGY CRISIS; National Seniors wants the government to re-introduce indexation of the energy supplement as older Australians die from hypothermia

ENERGY CRISIS; National Seniors wants the government to re-introduce indexation of the energy supplement as older Australians die from hypothermia

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Energy supplement is "fast becoming worthless", says National Seniors.

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LEADING advocacy group National Seniors has called for immediate government action on energy affordability.

The rising number of older Australians being treated for hypothermia and cold-related problems was an "indictment on Government" said chief advocate Ian Henschke.

"This is totally unacceptable in a caring society.

"What will it take for our politicians to recognise that energy affordability is at crisis point?"

A recent study by Alfred Health has shown elderly Australians are dying in hospital of hypothermia developed living in their own homes.

The study, conducted across The Alfred and Sandringham emergency departments (ED), found 217 people presented to ED with hypothermia between 2009 and 2016. Of those, 11 per cent died.

Nearly 80 per cent of the patients were found indoors and were more likely to be elderly with several health conditions.

Dr Ananda-Rajah, a general medicine physician at The Alfred, said an influx of people suffering hypothermia during the winter of 2015 - the coldest experienced in Victoria in 26 years - alerted doctors to the problem.

"There was a real run of these patients which made us interested in seeing any patterns of the hypothermia presentations," Dr Ananda-Rajah said.

Mr Henschke has called for immediate action on both the energy supplement and the age pension - reintroducing indexation of the supplement and reviewing how the age pension is set.

Ian Henschke

Ian Henschke

"We need an energy supplement that actually keeps pace with rising costs - as things stand, it's fast becoming worthless.

"That, in tandem with an inadequate aged pension, means that people are struggling. And, evidently, some people, particularly those on their own, are suffering terribly."

According to National Seniors more than half a million people rely on the pension as their sole source of income.

"Energy costs have jumped 90 per cent over the past decade, hitting pensioners on low incomes hardest. Indexing the energy supplement in line with the energy component of CPI would help pensioners and encourage government action to keep energy prices stable.

"But that's just the beginning - we also need an age pension tribunal to independently set the age pension rate so that it's no longer an easy target for budget cuts and to ensure that the rate is both fair and adequate. Currently, it is neither," he added.

The energy supplement for a single pensioner is worth $366.60 per year and $550 per year for a couple combined. However, inflation means the value of the energy supplement is declining.

The energy supplement used to be indexed so that inflation would not erode its value.

However, indexation was removed in the 2014-15 Federal budget and held at the June 2014 rate from January 1, 2015.

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