People struggling to afford to heat their homes are going to be more vulnerable to the flu virus this winter, vaccines minister Maggie Throup has admitted.
The minister – who has outlined plans for over 50s and the clinically vulnerable to get a further Covid booster this autumn – said there was “concern” about a spike in flu deaths.
Asking about fears more people could die if they could not afford to keep the heating on, Throup told LBC: “Well, that is a concern, it’s something that we’ve taken into consideration when we looked at our vaccination programmes.”
The Tory minister added: “You’re right, people who perhaps don’t heat their homes as much will be more vulnerable. And that’s why, as I say, we’re putting that ring of protection around the most vulnerable with our vaccine programme.”
Throup said that the flu and the Covid job would be given together, where possible, so people can have both jabs at one go. She said the government was “providing as much protection as we can”.
The Tory MP, a back of Rishi Sunak for the leadership, also told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that the government had already offered “lots” of help with the cost of living crisis.
Asked if Sunak should make his plan for additional direct support more clear, Throup said: “I think it’s quite right that we wait until we know who is our new leader … and then they will take on a lot of advice.”
The National Energy Action charity predicts that 8.2 million UK households – one in three – will be in fuel poverty when the price cap rises in October. Campoaigners have warned that thousands could die from cold-related illnesses.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer defended his plan to freeze energy prices this winter on Tuesday, saying “the zombie government are producing absolutely no plan”.
Starmer dismissed claimed that the £29bn Labour plan – which involves an expanded windfall tax on the oil and gas giants – is poorly targeted.
“This assumption that most people can afford these massive hikes in their energy bills is completely wrong,” Sir Keir said. “I think the government in making that argument is completely out of touch.”
Sunak has suggested he is considering further payments of around £5bn for the most vulnerable if he wins the Tory leadership contest. But Truss has yet to commit to any further “handouts”.
Truss was said to be considering whether the existing £400 government discount on energy bills this autumn – aimed at helping all households in the UK – could be better targeted. But a Truss campaign spokesperson said she would go ahead with the universal £400 payment.
A group of 70 charities have signed an open letter to Sunak and Liz Truss warning that families on benefits face a £1,600 shortfall over the coming months, despite receiving £1,200 in the last government support package.
In the letter, co-ordinated by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), they warn soaring energy bills mean many are already facing in a choice between skipping meals or not heating their homes properly.