Heat or Eat?

Hands up. I am a coward when it comes to watching unpleasant stuff on TV. In my early years this manifested itself in hiding behind the sofa when the Doctor Who theme music came on. But now I’m no longer scared of the Good Doctor, I have to turn the news off when it shows oppressed refugees or other grim things happening around the globe. It just fills me with such helplessness and depression – utterly useless emotions. And so if it is a choice between some miserable documentary on TV and a mindless comedy, I will cowardly choose Jim Carrey over John Simpson every time. But last night – for once – I forced myself to watch Dispatches: Heat or Eat on Channel Four. If you didn’t see it, it was a shocking investigation into the abject poverty and misery some pensioners find themselves living in – with no holds barred.

Some of the pensioners featured were living in terrible conditions – renting freezing, damp flats with dirty wallpaper peeling off the walls, filthy kitchens – unbelievable squalor. They faced a choice literally between heating or eating – should they eat or put the heating on and risk not being able to pay the bill? One man had signed up to a charity that helped pay his energy bills but still received bullying final demands from his energy company threatening to cut him off.

Many of them were handicapped and spent their days doing nothing but staring at the TV and worrying about bills. Others could barely afford to pay for care after their social services cut funding and put the prices up. Nearly all of them suffered terribly with loneliness. After the first 10 minutes I wanted to turn it off, I felt that depressed, not to mention guilty, but I gritted my teeth and forced myself to watch all of it.

I rang Age Concern this morning to ask them their thoughts about the programme and whether they felt the pensioners featured were typical – hoping desperately that they were aberrations. “As with all things, the programme makers wanted to use quite extreme examples,” says Helen Spinney at the charity, which along with Help the Aged assisted with the programme. “But we know from contact with older people and Age Concerns around the country that this situation is common place. 1.8m pensioners live in poverty and thousands live in fuel poverty. There are an awful lot of pensioners who are struggling.”

Let’s hope the government and social services are shamed into taking action and helping pensioners. It doesn’t seem right that our elderly should be spending the last few years of their lives in these disgusting conditions.

Meanwhile, my own pension experiment has gone ok this week, although I still feel I could get my costs down more. I spent £52 on groceries which I was disappointed by – I plan to investigate my local farm shops and Lidl next week to get my grocery costs down – I’m even considering going vegetarian for a week or two to see if that makes a difference, and then £30 on filling the car with petrol and another £10 seeing friends, making a total of £92. That’s only £12 left from my £104.55 weekly budget to go towards the car servicing fund if I don’t spend any money today. Mmm…not enough!

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10 Responses to Heat or Eat?

  1. snaggletooth says:

    I missed the programme but I\’ve seen enough old folks living like that in the past. It\’s just so wrong, they pay into the system all their lives and get treated like that when they\’re no longer making money for the government! It really does make you feel ashamed of this country. How many of them fought for it as well, losing friends and relatives and this is what they get for it.
    On another subject, I\’d still advise you to try a pushbike for shorter trips, the car wouldn\’t use any petrol if it\’s not being used, (obviously!), and wouldn\’t need servicing so often. You\’d stay fit, cause less pollution and the bike would pay for itself a lot quicker than you think if used often. And it\’s addictive!

  2. Christine says:

    Talking to someone elsewhere, I gather that the properties may well have been social housing. In which case the council or housing association has a duty to bring them up to decent homes standards so that they are not damp. Damp can be the result of either lack of heating or  problems with the fabric and the fabric is the responsibility of the landlord. Decoration is unfortunately the responsibility of the tenant and if you have no money then you can\’t afford to decorate and I suspect that if you are stretched for cash cleaning also goes by the board. The landlord will have a major job cleaning up such property for future lettings I may say from experience so would have some interest in acting now.I\’m also fascinated to know how you spent £52 on a week\’s food for 2 Piper.  If you are working from home you can surely fit in time to do cheap stir fries and winter soups that take half an hour to knock up and just need vegetables, lentils and pearl barley for a rounded meal.  I\’m trying to be polite here but my sense of frugal is a bit tested here even though I have to laugh at and with you.

  3. jason says:

    long johns keep you warm 🙂

  4. Michael says:

    There are plenty of words wrote on this subject but then again "no form of action is taken",what annoys me, as both of us are pensioners, both paid into the system, and also still having to pay taxes  on our measly pensions is what is going on in the two properties next to ours.They are what is called HMO\’s and in these properties are what are called people with learning difficulties,in other words people with drink and drug related problems,they are being paid benefits that they have never contributed to they have all the latest designer clothing and what is most annoying is the fact that they are just dumped in "residential areas" and destroying the local community.This area we live in has already got a problem with crime and drink and drug problems yet they are dumped here,they are constantly seen walking to the local drug drop offs, and hanging round the local supermarkets "begging for money" to add to their benefits to pay for the drink and drugs,how can this be right,and all this happens with no form of consultation with any of the residents "it just happens", could be "your" new neighbours soon.Regarding the terminology heat or eat,these have no problem in that respect as even though the temperature is has been below freezing these two properties have heat on twent four seven as the windows are left open nearly all day,whilst wwe have to just give our heat a blast every now and again.It is about time somebody in the Government did something about this as in a National Paper it stated that there are 100,000 of these claiments for benefit with self inflicted illnesses,whilst other people with more justifiable claims are being refused or their benefit stopped to fund this.

  5. frank and rosie says:

    My dear old Dad died recently at the age of 97 and outlived Mum by 25 years.  He lived in increasing \’poverty\’ as time went on – his was an old rambling house in one of the more expensive areas of the UK.  As his ableness deteriorated so did his surroundings and diet so that despite the caring eye of and help of close family you would find mouldy food in the frig and a kitchen infested with bugs.  Dad rejected all help from organisations and family and was very tough on anybody calling.  Obvously a very strong character but there was no way except by force that we could improve his lot.  All his family agreed that a care home would bring on his early demise for despite being registered blind and disabled he soldiered on doing his own washing, ironing and cooking and kept himself healthy (despite the very unhygenic surroundings).  In the end he just had to go into a nursing home but sadly only lasted 6 weeks as we had all predicted.  THE TERRIBLE THING IS HIS WILL REVEALED HIM TO BE A VERY RICH MAN. 
    The conclusion can only be reached is that if atall possible it is practical help that is needed for pensioners (I\’m one myself, of course)  As time goes on the same traits of frugality develop in most old folks and so direct help with insulation, efficient heating, meals on wheels, cleaning/shopping etc might be phased in as they are needed along with lifts to social centres/libraries/hospitals etc.  Good efforts are already being made towards some of these services but priorities have got  to be addressed such as warmth and food.  THERE IS ONE ENORMOUS STUMBLING BLOCK TO CREATING THIS UTOPIA:  an older person\’s utter resistance to help which is viewed as \’charity\’ and for the overwhelming reason that they don\’t trust anyone.  Overcoming that problem is the path to much improvement    

  6. Bracken says:

    Hi there
    Been reading for a few weeks now and it sounds a very interesting experiment. Having been unemployed ( quite a few years ago now) you learn to live on much less and spend less and getting a job doesnt really seem to change this. I find I am able to spend very little on food ( when I am trying to keep costs down) although I am a vegan so no meat or animal products. It is actually much easier to be healthy than most people will believe. Very cheap but nourishing tomatoe soup recipe: Soak a handful of split red/orange lentils in boiling water – about 20 minutes. While that is happening chop and fry an onion and celery stick ( you can even use the green tops for garnish if there are any but you do this just before serving), add a can of tomatoes ( chopped or chop with scissors whilst still in can), add some mixed herbs if using ( or fresh  basil, parsley or whatever you fancy) add the soaked red lentils.  At this point you can add some stock if you feel you need it . Usually I dont bother and you need to estimate if there is enough liquid. If no add some extra water. Cook for about 30 minutes. Then check lentils cooked and serve garnished with chopped celery tops if available. You can also puree this if prefered (although the red lentils break up naturally to thicken the soup in a similar way to the way they are used to thicken a curry). Alternatives: Instead of herbs can use curry spices, garlic, whatever you fancy. Its a very basic versatile recipe invented one very cold day when all we had was a tin of tomatoes and a stick of celery.
    If you intend to try veggie food, try dried soys mince/chunks but do not use them like meat. You need to soak in boiling water before use with soya sauce or marmite to flavour. Once soaked you cook the meal as normal BUT leave the soya out till close to the end. Otherwise you end up with tasteless soya which is why many poeple do not like it. They attempt to use like meat and cook it to death removing the added flavouring. While a meat casserole will cost say £2.00 in meat the same amount of soaked soya will probably cos 20-50p. Very good in stews and casseroles and very nourishing. Also ok for shepherds pie, morrocanish lamb( with apricots and almonds etc). Similarly if you soak beans such as black eye beans for 24 hours, cook for about 4 hours  you will have a saucepan full that can be used over a couple of meals which costs less than a can from a supermarket but you probably have 2-4 times as much for a similar cost. It takes more time but since you are experimenting with being at home it should be reasonable ok. We both work full time but still manage to do this. You just learn to fit into your cooking regime a few extra tasks. You can make pate as well from cooked beans with garlic and herbs. If you would like some recipes for tasty nourishing veggie food that is easy to make I can email you some.

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