Cold housing contributing to excess deaths as soaring energy bills strain household finances
The numbers are shocking, but they are predicted to get even worse. ITV News' Investigations Correspondent Daniel Hewitt reports
Last winter, on average, 45 people died every single day as a result of living in a cold home in England and Wales. Analysis by National Energy Action for ITV News shows that of the 13,400 excess deaths between December 2021 and March 2022, 4,020 were caused by the impact of cold housing. That's the equivalent of one in three people. The numbers are shocking, but they are predicted to get even worse. The latest data on excess deaths released on Thursday reflects what happened in England and Wales last winter.
Since then energy bills have doubled, and charities say that is already having an impact.
The End Fuel Poverty Coalition looked at government data available on excess deaths for last month (December 2022) and it suggests there were 1,047 deaths caused by living in cold homes in England alone, an increase of 36% on December 2021. “Every year we see the consequences of failing to keep the most vulnerable people safe and warm during the coldest, winter months,” says Adam Scorer, chief executive of National Energy Action. “We should not accept any death directly caused by a cold, unsafe home. “Next year, these statistics will expose the full impact of today's energy crisis. The toxic combination of extraordinary heating costs, stagnant or falling incomes, and our notoriously poor, unhealthy housing stock will take a heavier toll with lives blighted by debt, ill health, and worse. “Milder weather may not save us, or thousands of vulnerable households this winter. We must do all we can now to prevent a public health emergency and further needless deaths.
"Fuel Poverty needs long-term solutions, but this winter we need the UK government to give more support and stop millions falling through the cracks with the most awful consequences.”
Amy Corbett, a Hospital to Home co-ordinator, added: "A lot of the people that I am supporting on discharge from hospital are presenting with problems like pneumonia, chest infections.
"And I am certainly seeing a rise in that in the last few months."
High energy bills are unlikely to fall any time soon, with experts warning they may not return to 2021 levels until 2030.
Jessie, who has asthma and a chronic lung condition, described how soaring prices mean she only puts the heating on when she is "really cold".
"On a daily basis I find it very hard. I only put the heating on if I am really cold," she told ITV News.
"So I need the heating but I can't always afford to put it on - I am afraid."
The government is coming under pressure to offer a longer term solution to high bills beyond subsiding them, which will continue until April next year. Energy firms and fuel poverty campaigners are pushing for a so-called social tariff – a discounted energy rate for low-income customers – as well as a strategy to make Britain’s ageing housing stock more energy efficient. A government spokesperson told us: “We know this is a difficult time for families across the country. That is why we have acted quickly to deliver the Energy Price Guarantee which is saving a typical household £900 this winter and our Energy Bills Support Scheme is providing a further £400 off energy bills, in addition to the most vulnerable households receiving up to £1,200. “We are working with consumer groups and industry to assess the best long-term approach to helping vulnerable households from April next year.”
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