Fuel bills blamed for 50% rise in winter deaths

Almost 37,000 people died during last cold spell, new figures reveal

The number of deaths during the coldest three months of the year were up almost 50 per cent on the previous year to 36,700, sending an extra 10,000 pensioners to early graves, new figures showed yesterday.

The rise in "excess winter mortality" for England and Wales for the three months to February was the biggest for years and the highest total in a decade, sparking fresh calls for ministers to combat high energy prices.

In its campaign against the Great Energy Rip-off, The Independent is calling for a 10 per cent cut in fuel prices and powers for the regulator to take action against suppliers who fail to pass on lower wholesale costs.

Announcing the latest figures, the Office of National Statistics pointed out that seasonal flu last winter had been "moderate" but temperatures had been the coldest since 2005. Campaigners said a 40 per cent spike in the price of gas and electricity to £1,310 had exacerbated the situation.

As fuel bills have soared over the past six years, the number of households in "fuel poverty" – defined as having to spend 10 per cent or more of their income on power and heat – has risen five-fold to 6.6 million this year.

Britain has a worse record on winter deaths than colder European states such as Sweden, Norway and Finland. Age Concern, the charity for the elderly, warned that unless heating was made more affordable, further large-scale deaths would occur this winter.

"To end this national scandal, the Government must do much more to tackle fuel poverty," said Andrew Harrop, its head of policy. According to Age Concern's polling, four in 10 pensioners will not be able to afford to switch on gas and electricity when they want to this winter. Released in November, the Excess Winter Mortality figures for the preceding winter show the increase in the number of deaths in England and Wales over the coldest three months compared with the rest of the year.

Last winter more than 90 per cent of deaths were pensioners, who are among the least able to afford heat but the most vulnerable to cold-related disease, such as seasonal flu, hypothermia, bronchitis and emphysema.

Unlike the spike in winter deaths in 1999/2000 when a surge in flu caused almost 50,000 extra deaths, last winter's flu was within normal parameters, despite arriving earlier than usual. Figures from the Met Office showed that last winter was the coldest for a decade, at 3.C, half a degree lower than usual.

A Department of Health 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."

Angela Eagle, the Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society, said winter payments had been increased for households with a person aged 60 to 79 by £50 to £250, and for households with even older members by £100 to £400.

"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," she said.

However, the Conservatives pointed out that the Department for Energy is halving the budget for the Warm Front Scheme, which funds insulation and heating improvements, from £400m in 2008-09 to £200m in 2010-11.

Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action warned that a lethal combination of low incomes, high bills and poor insulation would continue to pose a serious threat to the health of millions of people.

Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners' Convention, said: "Since 1997, we have lost over 260,000 pensioners during the winter because of cold-related illnesses, yet the Government seems incapable of acting. No other section of our society is so vulnerable and treated so badly. Pensioners see rising fuel bills and are constantly worried about whether or not they can afford to put their heating on."

Jonathan Stearn, energy expert for Consumer Focus, said: "The Government needs to urgently revise its fuel poverty strategy and introduce energy efficiency measures that will lift the most vulnerable households out of fuel poverty."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'