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Winter deaths makes emergency plan imperative

Published on 23 November 2010 10:00 AM

Tragedy of 23,100 extra winter deaths of older people makes new emergency plan imperative, says Age UK

Commenting on ONS figures published today showing 23,100 excess winter deaths of people aged 65-plus occurred in England and Wales last winter, a drop of 31 per cent from the previous year but still in line with a five-year average of 24,956, Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director of Age UK, said:

'The drop in excess winter deaths from the previous year seems to show that some progress has been made. However, it's still unacceptable that in this day and age tens of thousands more older people die in this country every winter from the effects of the cold weather. As another winter sets in, plummeting temperatures will once again spell misery, ill-health and, in some cases, even death for too many people in later life across the country.

'The simple fact that the UK has one of the highest winter mortality rates in Europe - higher than even Sweden or Finland - makes it clear this is very much a home-grown problem. These are avoidable deaths due not just to the cold weather in itself but to the country's inability to meet the challenge of dropping temperatures. Behind these shocking statistics lie deep-seated social issues, such as 3.5 million older people in fuel poverty (1) and one in three over-60s living in houses which fail the decent-home standard (2).

'To help alleviate this needless suffering Age UK has launched its Spread the Warmth campaign this winter. We want to raise awareness of the difficulties many older people face in cold weather and let them know that Age UK can help them.

'We also urgently need an effective national and local emergency winter plan in place to ensure vulnerable older people are protected from the impact of cold weather this winter. National and local government, the private sector, charities, emergency services and the general public, everyone needs to work together to ensure older people at risk are identified and given adequate support.'

To reinforce its call for an emergency plan, Age UK is presenting a card, signed by members of the public, to representatives of the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government which illustrate the impact of cold weather on older people as temperatures fall.

On Spread the Warmth

Older people and their families can call Age UK Advice for free information and support on 0800 169 65 65, where they can also order a free copy of ‘Winter wrapped up', a guide sponsored by British Gas. Alternatively they can visit www.spreadthewarmth.org.uk to download the guide, get more information or make a donation. To find out about the help and support available locally, people should phone or visit their local Age UK or Age Concern.

- ENDS -

Images of the card presentations at the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government have been sent to picture desks.

A limited number of case studies of older people in fuel poverty are available to talk to journalists. If you would like to arrange an interview, please contact the Age UK press office on the numbers above.

Notes to Editors

  1. Based on our own estimate that 50% of all fuel poverty is in the older population (65+) and on a YouGov poll (December 2009) for the National Housing Federation, which puts the total all-age figure at 7.25 million. Households are classified as ‘fuel poor' when they spend a tenth or more of their income on energy bills.
  2. 34.8% of people aged 60-plus live in non-decent homes. They are also more likely to live in homes that do not provide adequate thermal comfort - this being one of the four ways to fail the decent homes standard.

An emergency plan

Age UK is campaigning for everyone - national and local government, the private sector, charities, emergency services and the general public - to work together to ensure that vulnerable people are protected from the effects of cold weather. The emergency plan needs to mobilise all the resources available to prevent as many deaths and as much of the illness as possible.

Here are some actions which could be undertaken under an emergency plan:

  • Local authorities coordinate the use of local resources from all sectors to protect vulnerable people from unnecessary ill health and death because of the cold.
  • Local authorities and healthcare providers systematically identify vulnerable people and refer them to appropriate help.
  • Local authorities ensure that the most vulnerable receive advice about help with fuel costs and other winter-related issues.
  • During periods of cold weather, supermarkets and local shops should offer free home deliveries of groceries to vulnerable people, with orders accepted by telephone.
  • A version of the warm clothing technology now used for sport should be developed for people in later life.

Top tips to stay warm and well this winter

  1. Claim your benefits - £5.4 billion worth of benefits goes unclaimed by older people every year. If you are eligible this could make a huge difference to your weekly income and go some way towards meeting your energy bills.
  2. Eat well and keep warm - Hot meals and drinks provide warmth and energy. Try to eat one nutritious hot meal every day and have hot drinks throughout the day and at bedtime. Wear several layers of clothes to keep warm and wrap up well when you go outside.
  3. Stay active - Regular exercise generates heat and helps you to keep warm. It can be as simple as doing household chores or, on nice days, taking a walk to the shops or park
  4. Get a flu jab - If you're over 65 or have a long-term health condition, you're more vulnerable to the effects of flu. There are different strains of the virus each winter - make sure you are protected by getting a free flu jab from your GP every year.
  5. Shop around - Shopping around for the best energy rate could make you a considerable saving. If you are on a low income you may also be eligible for a discounted social tariff. Contact your energy supplier and check if you are eligible for a discounted tariff.
  6. Get energy efficient - Improving your insulation, central heating, double glazing or draught-proofing could help keep your house warm and cut your bills. If you receive benefits you may be able to get a Warm Front grant to help pay for heating improvements, and your energy supplier may offer energy efficiency products like insulation free of charge.

Media contact: Stefano Gelmini
Tel: 020 8765 7514
Out of hours: 07071 243 243

Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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