New figures1 have revealed there were 29,290 excess winter deaths across England and Wales between 2019 and 2020, excluding those from Covid-19, as calls for the UK government to tackle the cold home crisis intensify. Official figures for last winter (2020/21) have yet to be released.
Excess winter deaths are defined as the difference between the number of deaths recorded in the cold months (December to March) compared with the average number of deaths in the warmer four-month periods before (August to November) and after (April to July).
OFTEC, a leading trade association in the off-gas grid heating sector, has expressed concern that many of these preventable deaths could be caused by people living in cold homes, particularly in rural areas where properties are typically older, less energy efficient and harder to keep warm.
Living in cold temperatures can lead to high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, which puts older people in particular at greater risk of developing respiratory and cardiovascular disease alongside other seasonal illnesses. Public Health England2 suggest that over one-fifth (22%) of excess deaths during winter are directly linked to cold homes.
Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC, said: “As we face another winter in the midst of a global pandemic, our attention is rightly placed on protecting as many people as possible from infection. We must not forget, however, that even without the impact of the coronavirus, thousands of people continue to die in avoidable circumstances because they live in a cold home.
“Experts believe that people who are older, live with long term health conditions or have lower average income are most at risk of winter illness or mortality. We have serious concerns that another cold winter, coupled with rising living costs and the ongoing risk posed by coronavirus, could make this situation much worse, as more households face a stark choice between heating and eating.”
OFTEC says that in rural areas, a disproportionate number of households live in fuel poverty, many of whom are classed as vulnerable, adding further complexity to the problem.
In England and Wales around 3.35 million households are classed as fuel poor3, which means their disposable income after energy costs puts them below the poverty line and their home has an energy efficiency (EPC) rating of band D or below.
Malcolm added: “Unfortunately, we know that many of those who are least able to afford their heating costs live in some of the most poorly insulated properties, making them much harder to heat and keep warm.
“The government needs to take action and provide more support for fuel poor households to help tackle the excess winter death crisis we are facing.
“It’s also crucial that, as the government looks to make changes to how we heat our homes to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change, that new green heating policies protect the vulnerable and are fair and affordable for all, regardless of where their home is or the type of property they live in.
1 Excess Winter Mortality in England and Wales: 2019 to 2020. Office for National Statistics. Accessed online via ons.gov.uk.
2 Local action on health inequalities: Fuel Poverty and Cold home-related health problems. Public Health England, 2014. Accessed online via gov.uk.
3 UK Government Annual sub-regional fuel poverty statistics report: 2021 (2019 data). Accessed online via gov.uk.