Surviving Winter

03/01/2014 10:54 GMT | Updated 04/03/2014 10:59 GMT

At Christmas the biggest concern for many of us is last minute shopping for gifts or making sure we get everything done in the office before heading home to the family.

Unfortunately, for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities this can be a time of loneliness and desperation. Across the UK, numerous people people are struggling to stay warm and cover the cost of food this winter. In most cases, this is the elderly and vulnerable, and they are left to struggle alone.

The consequences of higher bills and increased cost of living are also being felt across the UK. Rising energy prices mean many are left struggling to pay their bills and stay warm this winter, the effects of which can be significant. Figures from the Office for National Statistics estimate that there were almost 31,000 excess winter deaths in 2012/13 - 26,500 of these were in people aged 75 and over.

Isolation and loneliness are also huge issues affecting the UK's older population and are all the more pervasive at this time of year. Recent research from charity Age UK found that 450,000 people aged 65 and over are facing Christmas alone while 2.8 million said they are not looking forward to Christmas this year.

Of course it's not just the elderly facing challenges at this time of year. According to research by Barclays more than half (56%) of parents admitted that their family budget is in a worse state than summer 2012 while a third (34%) are struggling to cope with their finances being squeezed and stretched at the same time. One in five parents (19%) said that they did not feel in control of their finances while four in five (82%) were concerned about what they will be able to afford in the next 12 months.

No one should be left struggling and there is a responsibility on us all to come together and help when we can. This is why UK Community Foundations established the Surviving Winter campaign. The campaign, now in its third year, is calling for people to donate their Winter Fuel Payment, or whatever they can afford, to help the elderly and vulnerable in their communities this winter.

Last year, £1.2million was raised with 20,000 people benefiting from these funds in a variety of different ways. These included individual grants to aid the paying off of energy debts, support for local organisations tasked with helping the elderly and vulnerable people, as well as providing valuable funds to local food banks that experience a significant increase in demand in winter.

Now is the time for people to support those most in need by checking up on neighbours and donating to the Surviving Winter campaign. This support will mean that at least some of those who can often be forgotten at this time of year will receive the attention that could make the difference between life and death.