Activists erect ‘headstones’ outside Parliament to highlight deaths from cold homes

Activists build a 'cemetery' outside UK Parliament Credit: PA

Greenpeace is urging the Government to invest £6 billion a year to make homes warmer, improve health, cut bills and tackle climate change - by staging a stunt in Westminster.

Activists have erected hundreds of cemetery “headstones” made from insulation boards outside Parliament to warn a failure to tackle cold homes is costing thousands of lives.

Greenpeace UK estimates more than 70,000 excess winter deaths in the UK were linked to living in cold, damp housing conditions in the decade since the coalition government slashed support for home insulation measures.

In a protest at what it described as the “needless and shocking” deaths from living in cold homes, the green group installed headstones made from insulation boards in Victoria Tower Gardens and an eight-metre-long funeral wreath reading “cold homes cost lives”.

Protesters installing “headstones” made from insulation boards outside the Palace of Westminster in London Credit: Alex McBride/Greenpeace/PA

In 2013, when then prime minister David Cameron is said to have decided to “cut the green crap”, energy efficiency funding was cut, leading to a fall in installing measures such as loft and wall insulation by almost 90% from 2.33 million in 2012 to just over 320,000 in 2013.

Greenpeace accused the Government of a continuing failure to reinstate funding needed to upgrade homes to cut early deaths and poor health, tackle fuel poverty and the cost-of-living crisis, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

It is calling for a national retrofit insulation programme funded to the tune of £6 billion a year to tackle the health crisis and make homes warmer, more efficient and cheaper to heat.

The protesters accused the Government of a continuing failure to reinstate funding needed to upgrade homes Credit: Alex McBride/Greenpeace/PA

Campaigners are also urging Labour to reinstate its pledge to spend £6 billion a year on energy efficiency, which was significantly scaled back in its recent U-turn on spending £28 billion a year on green measures.

The green group’s analysis that more than 70,000 people have died early in the last decade – or 58 a day each winter – draws on official excess winter death figures and UCL Institute of Health Equity estimates that 21.5% of excess winter deaths are attributable to cold homes.

Paul Morozzo, Greenpeace UK’s fuel poverty campaigner, said: “Thousands of people are literally freezing to death in their own homes during winter.

“Not only have successive governments failed to prevent this needless and shocking loss of life, but they have fuelled this silent public health crisis by slashing insulation funding and failing to deliver a proper scheme to upgrade our cold, damp, draughty homes.

A Greenpeace activist lays a flower on one of the ‘headstones’ outside the Palace of Westminster Credit: Alex McBride/Greenpeace/PA

“This persistent failure to protect lives in one of the easiest ways possible is also driving the rise in fuel poverty, the cost of living and climate crises – since well-insulated homes cost less to heat and cut carbon emissions.

“Cold homes cost lives and we urgently need a government willing to invest at least £6 billion every year to end this national scandal once and for all.”

Campaigners from Fuel Poverty Action were also at the protest.

Stuart Bretherton, Fuel Poverty Action’s energy for all campaign co-ordinator, said: “Countless avoidable deaths under this Government prove that it was true then as it is now, green policies are a necessity to reducing poverty and driving improvements to social wellbeing.

The gravestones each carried messages as part of the protest Credit: Alex McBride/Greenpeace/PA

“The next government must set its ambitions high in delivering safe, non-toxic, non-flammable insulation appropriate for our homes; installed by well-trained workers.

“Repairing and retrofitting the UK’s housing stock could prevent further loss of life, create thousands of skilled jobs and vastly reduce energy wastage for households bringing down emissions and our bills.”

Experts say cold homes can cause and worsen health conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular problems, poor mental health, dementia and hypothermia, in some cases exacerbating them to the extent they may cause death.