Pensioners' groups in the Westcountry have condemned latest energy bill increases as "disgraceful" saying many now faced living conditions akin to poverty-stricken Russia in the 1920s.
British Gas, the country's biggest energy supplier, yesterday confirmed it was hiking electricity and gas tariffs by an average of 6%.
It immediately prompted warnings of a "long, cold winter" for the elderly and hard-up, with many expecting other energy suppliers to follow suit. Npower was next out of the blocks with an average rise of 8.8% for gas and 9.1% for electricity.
Bob Drabwell, chairman of the Cornwall Senior Citizens Forum, said: "It is another financial burden that people can ill afford. Everything is going up and this is going to hit people pretty hard.
"People can't see a way out of this trap. The end of the tunnel is so far away now that people cannot see the light.
"We are getting to a state now, like Russia in the 1920s, where there is no food on the table, it is freezing cold and there is no hope. It is that bad."
Pensioners' activist Bob Turner, from Exeter, said the increase was "absolutely disgraceful" given the parent company Centrica posted a 23% rise in half-year profits at its residential arm to £345 million.
"Wholesale prices for suppliers are going down and yet prices for customers are going up," Mr Turner said. "I think we have every right to be outraged and no doubt other suppliers will follow suit.
"Describing it as a choice between 'heating and eating' has almost become a joke but for many, many pensioners it is a daily reality.
"Pensioners who aren't working have more time to brood on these sorts of things which might have an impact on their general state of health."
Low wages and an ageing population mean fuel poverty – where households spent 10% or more of their budget on energy bills – is particularly acute in Devon and Cornwall.
Government figures show there were 126,053 households classed as being in fuel poverty in 2010.
In the Westcountry around one-in-five are regarded as being in fuel poverty, with the highest rate of 21.3% being recorded in the Torridge and West Devon parliamentary constituency.
The St Ives constituency in Cornwall was next, with 8,147 – or 21.3% – of people struggling to pay their bills.
British Gas added to the pressure on households by putting an extra £80 on to its typical annual dual fuel bill.
A total of 8.5 million households will be affected from November 16.
British Gas managing director Phil Bentley said: "Britain's North Sea gas supplies are running out, and British Gas has to pay the going rate."