Pensioner campaigners urge ministers to address fuel poverty
ELEVEN pensioners died every hour last winter as latest stats reveal a rise in the number of deaths this time of year.
There were 34,300 “excess deaths” across England and Wales over the last winter period — the second-highest level in the last eight years.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which released the figures yesterday, put the increase down to the “predominant strain of flu” during 2016-17.
The winter death toll has prompted campaigners to demand government action on fuel poverty, with many elderly unable to afford to heat their homes.
The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) called on the government to launch a new fuel poverty commission to urgently address the scale of annual winter deaths among Britain’s elderly population.
NPC general secretary Jan Shortt said: “Successive governments have simply ignored the problem of winter deaths among the older population and seem to have a policy of crossing their fingers and hoping things will improve.
“Today’s figures show that this policy simply doesn’t work — in fact things are getting worse.”
She warned that around 3.5 million older people are at risk or suffering fuel poverty due to inadequate heating and insulation.
“The key to tackling winter deaths is to make sure older people have got a well-insulated, warm home and the income needed to pay the fuel bills,” Ms Shortt argued.
“This is a basic requirement of what a decent society should do.”
The highest number of winter deaths on record was in 2014-15 when the death toll reached almost 44,000.
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said that the dramatic jump in excess winter deaths in England was “a terrible rebuke to anyone who thought it was ‘job done’ when it comes to keeping older people safe and sound through the winter.”
She pointed out that the deaths were preventable.
“A less than fully effective flu vaccine is likely to be one culprit, but it is also true that many older people live in poorly insulated homes and worry about turning up the heating during the cold months, increasing their risk of ill health,” Ms Abrahams said.
Public Health England director Professor John Newton advised heating homes to at least 18°C, keeping well stocked on essential food and medicine throughout the winter and wrapping up in several layers when going outside.