Elderly couple forced to sleep in coats and stop using oven as energy bills double

An elderly couple can no longer afford to heat their home after their energy bills more than doubled last month – forcing them to wear coats to bed.

Gerald Porter, 83, and his wife Mair, 80, say the price hike has “taken over their lives”, with the pair having given up their social lives and stopped using their oven to keep costs down.

Now, Gerald is even considering going back to work to “earn a few extra pennies” to help support his wife Mair, who was recently diagnosed with dementia.

The former RAF veteran, who served on the force for 18 years, says he feels as though the country has devoted his life to has turned its back on him.

He told The Mirror: “I don’t want to complain really because I’ve had a good life, but it comes as a huge disappointment.

“In the quiet hours when you sit and think, well we did all that and we’ve ended up with all this worry. You’re sort of living on the edge really.

“I don’t know if it’s a matter of age but you think, what did we do all that for?

Gerald is even debating going back to work at 83 to afford the bills.

“Life has changed completely. Before, we would go out lunching and that sort of thing, meeting friends – but we don’t do that anymore. We can’t afford it, every penny has got to be watched.

“For years, I’ve contributed to causes like the Salvation Army or UNICEF. I give them maybe £5 or £10 a month – not much – but that’s all stopped.

“I just can’t afford it. It grieves me to do it, but there you go, I just can’t do anything about it.”

The couple have set strict budgets for their daily gas and electricity usage.
The couple have set strict budgets for their daily gas and electricity usage.

Since their bills jumped from £110 to £295, Gerald and Mair have started setting strict budgets for their daily gas and electricity usage, which means giving up the use of their central heating altogether.

Gerald has worked out that it costs him 3p to boil his kettle – a cheaper solution that allows both him and Mair to surround themselves with multiple hot water bottles to stay warm while at home.

They’ve also stopped using the oven to keep costs low, relying instead on their microwave.

Gerald and Mair Porter are
Gerald and Mair Porter are “watching every penny” out of fear they won’t be able to afford their next energy bill.

He said: “We’re on a fixed income so there’s nothing we can do about it. I can put it on and go into debt but I just want somebody to do something.

“I can’t imagine a time that I can turn the heating on again, there’s nothing in sight and there’s nothing else I can do”

“The difference between £110 and £295 – it’s a chasm that I can’t cross. I’m not putting the heating on because I refuse to go into debt.”

Gerald added: “At night, we cover the bed in coats and use an extra blanket because Mair is particularly susceptible to the cold.

“We wear coats indoors now. They’re like long jackets lined with synthetic wool. We’re having to use those in bed too just to make sure we keep warm. As you get older, the extremes of heat and cold affect you more .

“We’ve got an Aga, but we have no plans to use that. Putting it on would be absolutely catastrophic. We just use it for storage – it’s just a nice piece of furniture now, nothing else.”

Gerald Porter served in the RAF for 18 years.
Gerald Porter served in the RAF for 18 years.

And yet this isn’t the only difficulty that the couple are facing, as the cost increase came shortly after 80-year-old Mair was diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Gerald added: “I’m trying to take it in my stride. It’s unavoidable, but just another thing to worry about really.

“I’m afraid with my wife’s illness, they sort of retreat within themselves. She doesn’t have opinions now. She has very basic feelings like ‘I’m too cold’ or ‘I’m too hot.'”

Gerald went viral on Twitter last month after sharing a message about how the price hikes are impacting their lives.

A young Gerald in Singapore in 1960 whilst serving for the RAF.
A young Gerald in Singapore in 1960 whilst serving for the RAF.

He said: “Our heating is the biggest expense we’ve got. We live on very average pensions, and the reason why I put the tweet out wasn’t an appeal for help or anything, it was anger. I was so angry. When I worked the figures out I thought, my God, what am I doing?

“I had loads of people come back to me and say, ‘we’ll give you some money’. I even had a young woman say, I’m a single mum but I’ve got some money put away and you’re welcome to half of it.”

He added: “From a large point of view, there is help. I’ve also got my family. You’re a telephone away from home if you need anybody. My granddaughter is wonderful. I couldn’t manage without it. I I’m very lucky.”

Mair Porter 'many moons ago' before she was diagnosed with vascular dementia.
Mair Porter ‘many moons ago’ before she was diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Since Mair’s diagnosis, Gerald has sent out an application for her to receive an Attendance Allowance and hope it will take away some of their financial strain.

“It would definitely help. It’d cover bills full stop,” says Gerald.

But Gerald believes that he shouldn’t have to rely on others to support him financially, and that the government should be held responsible for the effects that the cost of living crises are having on regular people like himself.

“I detest the thought of relying on benefits. The kindness of strangers. I really hate that. People are generous. I know that from the tweet. That really surprised me.

“But it’s just the thought that you are really an individual. Now you’re on your own. You’ve got to get over it and there’s nothing I can do, except sell stuff. That’s what I could do.

“I’m afraid I’ve lost complete patience with anything the Government says, or any politician really. I’ve seen a lot of governments, and these people are the worst, worst of the lot.”

Gerald is grateful for the support he's received from his granddaughter Sharon.
Gerald is grateful for the support he’s received from his granddaughter Sharon.

The pair have acknowledged that while the cost of living crisis has forced them to live frugally, they could have been much worse off.

Gerald said “There must be a lot of people a lot worse off than me, and not just elderly people either. I don’t have a mortgage, I don’t have any debts. If you’ve got a mortgage and a couple of children, it’s going to be really tricky.

Even at 83-years-old, Gerald is considering going back to work to “earn a few extra pennies”.

“I don’t want to do it but I’m hoping I can. It would have to be from home and it would have to be a computer device. One of the first things I looked at was working remotely for Amazon but I’ I’m not even sure of how it works.”

Despite the drastic changes they’ve already made, Gerald believes there is still a long way to go.

He said: “I think it may get worse, particularly with the administration that is in charge of the country now. The way they operate, the stereotypical Tory administration – the sole incentive is profit.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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