To mark the launch of this year’s Cold Homes Week (1–5 February 2016), Age UK is warning that the lack of a sustainable solution to the UK’s cold homes epidemic risks undermining the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands of older people over coming winters. The Charity is calling on the Government to urgently reform its energy efficiency programme so that all older people can afford to live in a warm home.
One older person dies every seven minutes from the cold every winter in the UK, and excess winter death rates and illness are highest among those living in the coldest homes. Last winter alone, a staggering 40,800 older people in England and Wales died unnecessarily from cold-related conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. Yet according to Age UK many of these deaths would have been prevented if the UK’s housing stock had been properly insulated.
The evidence shows that the UK’s homes are among the most expensive to heat in Europe. In 2014, the average standard tariff fuel bill was £1,265 compared to £472 in 2004 – a rise of 168 per cent in just ten years.
In addition the UK has the highest level of fuel poverty among a dozen comparable EU nations, and one of the greatest proportions of homes in a poor state of repair. Yet Government measures in response have been largely ineffective, leaving around a million older people continuing to languish in fuel poverty year on year.
Age UK believes that the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) must be reformed quickly to ensure that it reaches far more people in need. The Charity is also calling for a new, improved scheme to replace the now defunct Green Deal to support those who can afford to pay to invest in energy efficiency at home. The Charity argues that these steps will play a crucial role in eradicating fuel poverty and reducing cold-related illness and deaths among older people.
Age UK’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “It is virtually impossible for many older people to keep their home as warm as it should be in the winter months. For too many, the struggle to keep adequately warm will have life and death consequences – something we should feel deeply ashamed of in a country as affluent as ours.
“While older people are more vulnerable to cold weather, many health problems and even deaths can be easily prevented by taking simple precautions to stay warm. Using a low-cost room thermometer for example, can save lives – but only if people can then afford to turn the heating up when necessary.
“What is really needed is a belt and braces approach to eradicating cold homes. The Government must be far more ambitious about tackling fuel poverty by introducing a comprehensive energy efficiency programme to help those who are most at risk from the cold.”
Age UK is calling on individuals and groups up and down the country to take part in a candlelight vigil to remember the 40,800 older people in England and Wales who died from the cold last winter. For more information people can visit www.ageuk.org.uk/coldhomesweek or call Age UK’s campaigns hotline on freephone 0800 028 5535.