Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that despite the UK experiencing a relatively mild winter in 2011-12, there were still 24,000 excess winter deaths in England and Wales.
Excess winter deaths (EWDs) reflect how many more deaths there are during winter months compared with the non-winter months of the year. Cold damp housing and unaffordable energy costs are important factors in excess winter mortality and many of these excess deaths can be attributed to living in fuel poverty. The reality is that EWD’s are just the tip of the iceberg, millions of fuel poor households suffer with cold related illnesses during the winter months which could be prevented. A recent report by Age UK* estimated that cold homes are costing the NHS in England £1.36 billion every year in hospital and primary care treatments, with the majority of these caused by cardiovascular diseases – strokes and heart attacks.
Maria Wardrobe, Director of External Affairs at fuel poverty charity National Energy Action said ‘These figures demonstrate that if you are a vulnerable person living in England or Wales then even a comparatively mild winter can still be deadly. However, the fact that our Scandinavian neighbours experience much harsher winters and have nowhere near the same level of winter deaths means that we should not accept this as inevitable. Increasing the investment in improving the energy efficiency of our housing, particularly for those who are poor and vulnerable, has to be an urgent priority for the UK Government.’
NEA has consistently taken the view that heating and insulation improvements represent the only sustainable solution to ensuring long-term affordable warmth and is urging George Osborne to take bold action on Britain’s cold homes. Treasury is benefiting from additional income from VAT every time prices go up and carbon tax revenues next year will rise significantly, potentially rising to £4billion by 2020. Deploying these resources into an ambitious domestic energy efficiency programme could go a long way to eradicating fuel poverty, reducing carbon emissions, creating tens of thousands of green and local jobs and reducing the numbers of EWD’s in years to come.
People worried about their energy bills this coming winter are advised to see if there may be grants and discounts available to help with energy costs. Call the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234 (England and Wales) 0800 512 012 (Scotland). Or if you live in Wales, call the NEST helpline on 0808 808 2244.
*Age UK, The Cost of Cold, Nov 2012
Notes to the Editor
Excess winter deaths are defined by the Office for National Statistics as the difference between the number of deaths during the four winter months (December to March) and the average number of deaths during the preceding autumn (August to November) and the following summer (April to July).
NEA is the UK’s leading fuel poverty charity, campaigning for affordable warmth in the homes of vulnerable people. For further details visit http://www.nea.org.uk
Fuel poverty is defined as the need to spend over 10% of household income on fuel costs to maintain adequate warmth for health and comfort
For further information contact Claire Henderson / Nina Dunlavy on 0191 261 5677
Out of hours contact – Peter Smith 07595780893