Winter deaths rise 'a national scandal'

The highest winter deaths figures in almost 10 years should act as a "deafening wake-up call" for the Government, charities said today

There were an extra 36,700 deaths in England and Wales from December 2008 to March 2009, compared with the average for non-winter periods, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed.



This was the highest number since the winter of 1999/2000 and a rise of 49% compared with 2007/08.



Andrew Harrop, head of policy at Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: "It is a national scandal that the UK has more older people dying in winter, compared to the rest of the year, than countries with more severe weather, such as Sweden and Finland.



"Excess winter deaths of older people have remained stubbornly high in recent years, but last winter's huge spike sounds a deafening wake-up call about the older population's well-being if we have another cold snap.



"To end this national scandal, the Government must do much more to tackle fuel poverty, which currently affects one in three older households."



Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) warned that a combination of high energy prices, low incomes and poor insulation will continue to pose a serious threat to the health of millions of people, especially pensioners, during the coming months.



Jenny Saunders, NEA chief executive, said: "The Government needs to step up action that will end these shameful statistics and comprehensibly tackle fuel poverty in the UK."







The winter of 2008/9 had the coldest average winter temperature since 2005/6, one of the factors which affects the number of so-called excess winter deaths, an ONS spokesman said.

He added that the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said influenza activity started early and reached moderate levels during the winter of 2008/9.



Temperature and levels of disease in the population are two of the key factors which contribute to the number of deaths.



The greatest number of excess winter deaths occurred in people aged over 85, the ONS figures showed.



Women accounted for the highest number of excess winter deaths, a fact mostly explained by the higher number of women than men aged over 85, the ONS said.





There were 21,400 excess winter deaths in women and 15,300 in men in the winter of 2008/9, the ONS said.

But the largest increase - 59% - was in men aged 75 to 84, with the overall rate for men 44% higher than the previous year.



Among women, the overall rate increased by 52% compared with 2007/8.



A Department of Health (DH) spokesman said: "The causes of excess winter deaths are very complex. Last year was a colder than average winter, which explains some of the extra deaths seen.



"The 'Keep Warm, Keep Well' campaign offers important advice to older people on how to stay fit and healthy through the winter and our seasonal flu vaccination programme is one of the most successful in Europe.



"The DH is working in partnership with DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) and Warm Front to increase the uptake of grants to improve heating systems, insulation and increase the uptake of benefits for those whose health is most likely to be affected by cold weather and fuel poverty."





The NEA called for an extension of the winter fuel payments "to include other vulnerable households and not just those who are over 60".

It also urged the Government to increase the budget for the Warm Front Scheme - which provides a package of insulation and heating improvements up to the value of £3,500 - to £530 million next year.



Ms Saunders said: "As it stands, the budget for 2010 is set to be cut back by around 50% on this year's budget.



"I urge the Chancellor in his Pre-Budget Report on December 9 to increase support for the life-saving heating and insulation measures available to low income households under this flagship programme.



"People need to be aware of the help that is available to them through the various grants and schemes from DECC, energy companies and our own Warm Zones where we have established these with local authorities.



"Pensioners in particular are often anxious to avoid debt and turn their heating down or even off, often unaware that they are putting their health in danger."



She said there were more than five million households who cannot afford to heat their homes, putting them at risk of serious health problems like heart disease, strokes, respiratory illnesses - such as asthma and bronchitis - and exacerbating common ailments like colds and flu.



She added that the increase in excess winter deaths was "sadly expected but remains extremely worrying".





Excess deaths were significantly higher in 2008/09 than in the previous two winters for all regions, except the north-east of England, the ONS figures showed.

The number of deaths jumped by more than 70% in Wales - where the figures rose from 1,440 in 2007/08 to 2,500 in 2008/09 - and in south-east England, where the figures rose from 3,520 in 2007/08 to 6,000 in 2008/9.



Angela Eagle, the Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society, said: "I don't want any older people to be afraid to turn up their heating in winter.



"Real help with fuel bills is available and I want to ensure everyone gets what they are entitled to. That's why we repeated the increased Winter Fuel and Cold Weather payments again this year."



She said the payments for winter 2009/10 had increased to £250 from £200 for households with someone aged 60-79 and to £400 from £300 for households with someone aged 80 or over.



An extra £25 a week in Cold Weather payments is also available in prolonged cold snaps for the most vulnerable pensioners, she said.



"They can give piece of mind during the colder months," Ms Eagle said.



Later, a Department of Health spokesman added: "Every year the NHS prepares for winter, but this year has seen unprecedented planning to respond to the potentially difficult winter ahead."

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Voices
Vivienne Westwood and her son Joe Corré deliver an anti-fracking letter to No 10 last week
voicesThe great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick