Big freeze hits home – carers are pushed to the limit while elderly worry over soaring energy bills
9th December 2022
Sub-zero temperatures are leading to huge heating bills for many families, with some facing debt while others are going cold or hungry.
The Irish Independent has spoken to a cross-section of society, including a pensioner, a worker, a family carer and a group representing renters in Dublin.
Mother-of-two Tracy Carroll (46), from Kells, Co Meath, has to heat her home constantly due to daughter Willow’s health needs.
Willow (6) has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, is quadriplegic and peg-fed. Mrs Carroll’s older son, Noah (8) has ADHD and is receiving therapy privately because of long HSE waiting lists. Ms Carroll has to keep medical equipment on constant charge, to ensure Willow gets essential care.
“I have a stove lit first thing in the morning every morning,” said Ms Carroll.
“I have to constantly heat my home, I can’t have the house cold. Willow was in hospital two weeks ago with double pneumonia and RSV.
“I worry all the time. If we didn’t have the heating on round-the-clock, next time Willow might not come home from the hospital.
“I worked from the age of 15 to 41 and I get half-carer’s allowance. I had to battle to get that €123 a week.
“I’m lucky that my husband John has a good job, but if we save a rainy-day fund for things like bills, we fear being penalised on the Carer’s Allowance by Social Protection. Carers, along with many other people, are on their knees.”
Generally, people reported being grateful for the €600 credit to help pay energy bills in January and in March.
However, the consensus was that more support must be introduced by the Government against a backdrop of higher food costs and a general increase to the cost of living.
Teresa Moroney (72), from Tipperary, “fell into debt” during the pandemic, through simply paying her bills and buying essentials for her home in Nenagh.
Now the grandmother says she worries every single day. “I have arthritis and I’m at home a lot,” Ms Moroney said. “I go to bed by 7pm to avoid the cold. But I wake up very cold at night and I have to go to turn the heating on. The house is very cold, it doesn’t retain the heat.”
Ms Moroney said she was wearing two jumpers and a dressing gown during the daytime and turning the heating off sporadically in a bid to save money.
The pensioner, who has six grandchildren, often goes without meat and eats porridge instead.
“I always worry if I have the heating on too long and if the bills go too high, if the food goes up more, what will I do,” said Ms Moroney.
“I’d have to go into debt for the oil. And I don’t want to go into debt again.”
The grandmother gets a pension of €265 a week. While she welcomed an increase of €12 a week to her State pension, from January, Ms Moroney said “more needs to be done”.
She feels the pension should be increased by around €20 a week to take account of the changing economic situation.
“It’ll be a long, hard winter,” she said. “Life’s getting harder, as I get older, and it shouldn’t be this hard.”
Former Clerys worker Gerry Markey (60), from Finglas, Dublin, now has a job as a sales assistant and helps look after his parents, Julie (84) and Paddy (88), who both have health needs.
The father of two grown-up children said: “My parents have got older. They’re not able to do the things they would have done beforehand, so they moved in with me.
“Mum wakes at 6am and I have to get her medication done before I go to work. I leave for work at 6.45am.
“The heating and electricity is on from 6am and right throughout the day for Mum and Dad, as they’re at home.
“It’s around €10 a day to heat the house at this stage. I work very hard but I earn less than I did at Clerys and I have to pay more in bills.”
Mr Markey said he had had to cut back on one of the small treats he previously enjoyed – trips to the cinema – and he made sure to shop for reduced-price food once a week. “I worry about keeping my parents warm,” Mr Markey said. “I’m all the time worrying what the next bill will be.”
Even a month’s tax break would help to “give everyone a breather this winter,” he added.
Peter Dooley, from the Dublin Renters’ Union, said some renters had felt so much pressure due to inflated bills that they were now “going to moneylenders”.
“A lot of renters live in homes with poor BER ratings, so they’re throwing money at bills to keep their homes warm and the heat isn’t even being retained. People are spending days in libraries and shopping centres, afraid to put the heating on.
“The Government needs to put caps on the energy companies because people are being driven to despair.”
Sean Moynihan, CEO of Alone, said older people were anxious about energy bills.
However, he said it was vital that people kept warm, especially those over 70 or with underlying health issues.
“Keeping warm is a health issue. We have excess deaths in winter. When we get a cold snap, people get pneumonia and bronchitis,” said Mr Moynihan. “This is an evolving situation and the Government said if more help was needed, it would do so and I think they will need to help again.”
Mr Moynihan said older people could contact Alone on 0818 222 024 if they needed help.