Thousands of people are “needlessly” dying each year because they cannot afford to properly heat their homes, new research by National Energy Action and climate-change charity E3G has revealed. The UK has the second-worst rate of excess winter deaths in Europe.
Almost 17,000 people in the UK are estimated to have died in the last five years as a direct result of fuel poverty and a further 36,000 deaths are attributable to conditions relating to living in a cold home, the research found. The number dying each year is similar to the amount who die from prostate cancer or breast cancer.
A total of 168,000 excess winter deaths from all causes have been recorded in the UK over the latest five-year period. Of 30 countries studied, only Ireland has a higher proportion of people dying due to cold weather.
Pedro Guertler, of E3G, who co-authored the research, said the winter death figures were not only a tragedy but a “national embarrassment...This epidemic is entirely preventable”
The impact of fuel poverty and cold homes is far wider than just the number of fatalities, the researchers said. GP surgeries and A&E departments --already at breaking point -- are placed under unnecessary additional strain. Infants living in cold conditions have a 30 per cent greater risk of being admitted to hospital or primary care facilities and almost three times more likely to suffer from coughing, wheezing or respiratory illness. Living in cold conditions also increases the risk of health problems including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as falls and injuries.
“In later life, the impact of a cold home often compounds poor physical health and loneliness,” the report states. “There is now a large gap between action to deliver warm and efficient homes, and the ambition to do so, which needs to be urgently filled,” the report said.
“Beyond the terrible scale of cold-related winter deaths, people experiencing fuel poverty can also struggle with poor mental health and this can sadly lead to total social isolation and even suicide,” said Peter Smith, director of policy and research at NEA and co-author of the report. “This preventable tragedy must end," he said.