Fuel poverty deaths three times higher than government estimates

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The number of people dying as a result of fuel poverty is three times higher than government estimates suggest, according to new academic research.

Some 7,800 people die during winter because they can’t afford to heat their homes properly, says fuel poverty expert Professor Christine Liddell of the University of Ulster. That works out at 65 deaths a day.

Fuel poverty is defined as when someone needs to spend 10 per cent or more on heating their home.

The new total – calculated using World Health Organisation guidance and official excess winter death figures - is four times as many fatalities as happen in road accidents each year.

The previous government estimate put the total of deaths relating to fuel poverty at just 2,700 a year. That was included in a report last year by Professor John Hills, who is expected to produce his final recommendations on fuel poverty next month.

Yet the latest Office of National Statistics figures show that there were 25,700 excess winter deaths in England and Wales in winter 2010.

Meanwhile the latest WHO research suggests that 30 to 40 per cent of the excess winter deaths can be attributed to fuel poverty.

“The 2,700 figure published by Professor Hills is peculiar. I see no justification for it,” said Professor Liddell.

“I believe the figure of 7,800 is much more realistic as it is based on WHO’s most recent estimates of deaths relating to cold and damp homes.”

Ed Matthew, director of Transform UK, the organisation behind the Energy Bill Revolution campaign launched this week, said: “These figures are horrifying. You can’t call yourself a developed country and allow this many people to die from living in cold homes.

“If the Government recycles carbon revenue to make homes super energy efficient it can end this scandal once and for all,” he said. “These deaths are totally preventable. This is perhaps the greatest test of whether this Government has an ounce of true compassion and moral fibre.”

His campaign wants the Government to direct £4bn a year from carbon taxes to vulnerable families.

Figures published on Monday warned that there will by 9.1m households living in fuel poverty by 2016 – the year the government has pledged to end the problem.

Professor Liddell warned that it’s not just the elderly who can become victims. “Among the excess winter deaths you can even see healthy people as young as 50,” she said.

Meanwhile campaigning MPs yesterday held a Westminster Hall debate to focus on rising energy bills and support The Independent’s campaign for Fair Energy.

Green party leader Caroline Lucas said: “It is completely outrageous that the Big Six energy firms are able to rake in eye-watering profits as people up and down the country are forced to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families.”

“Through over-charging customers, including the most vulnerable in society, the energy companies are driving people into fuel poverty,” she said.

She called for a levy to be imposed on energy companies with the cash used to improve the energy-efficiency of homes. She also demanded a cap on prices.

Finally she called for an independent enquiry into the Big Six energy companies.

“People do not trust the energy companies,” Ms Lucas pointed out.