As the consultation on the government’s Green Deal energy efficiency scheme is scheduled to be published, the latest official figures indicate that excess winter deaths for 2010/11 reached 25,700.
The figure from the Office for National Statistics is largely unchanged from last year but fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) says the cold spell in December precipitated a 38% increase in deaths across England and Wales.
Deaths from late November to early January were above average, peaking at 3500 over the five-year average for the time of year.
NEA says that cold, damp housing and unaffordable energy costs are among the most important factors in excess winter mortality.
The charity, which is launching a warm homes campaign this week with energy company E.ON, is warning that a combination of high energy prices, low incomes and poor heating and insulation standards will continue to pose a threat to the health of millions, particularly the elderly, in coming months.
“This number of excess winter deaths was sadly expected,” says NEA chief executive Jenny Saunders. “The figures emphasise that fuel poverty is killing our most vulnerable citizens.”
Saunders says that the UK has some of the highest excess winter death rates in Europe, higher than many, much colder Scandinavian nations.
In fact, research quoted by the ONS reports that excess winter mortality is often worse in milder countries because housing tends to have poorer thermal efficiency and people tend to take fewer precautions against the cold.
Although excess winter deaths have fallen in the UK over the last 50 years, the level is still too high according to the UK’s previous Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson.
The government has attempted to tackle the issue with winter fuel payments and has pledged to make available a ‘warm homes, healthy people’ fund this winter for local authorities and charities to help them reduce illness and death caused by living in cold homes.
But the NEA says that the government needs to step up the action to end the “shameful statistics” and comprehensively tackle fuel poverty.
“[The government] need to ensure that their upcoming energy efficiency programme, the Green Deal, fully delivers where it is needed most, improving the comfort levels of homes and providing affordable warmth to vulnerable households,” says Saunders.
For further information:
Scottish Government boost fuel poverty scheme by £400,000 (8-Nov)
UK price rises could increase fuel poverty to 6.6 million homes (16-Aug)
Rising energy costs delay heating switch on in British homes (10-Oct)
23 November 2011