UK insulation rollback could leave thousands to die in cold homes

As excess winter deaths increase, frustration rises at threatened government rollback of energy efficiency policies

Source: Flickr/Jose Miguel Calatayud

Source: Flickr/Jose Miguel Calatayud

By Sophie Yeo

Over 31,000 people died last winter because of the cold weather, which has led to frustration over the UK government’s threatened rollback of energy efficiency policies.

The number of deaths is 29% higher than last year, and the majority of those who died were aged over 75.

The increase is likely to be a result of badly insulated homes, rather than particularly cold weather conditions, according to the Office of National Statistics, which released the figures today.

“If we accept the reason we have so many winter fuel deaths compared to Europe is that our buildings are less good, why would you roll back on the only policy looking at addressing that problem?” Emma Lucy Pinchbeck, an energy policy consultant at Micropower Council told RTCC.

In countries across Scandinavia and Northern Europe, where winter temperatures are particularly cold, the number of winter deaths tends to be lower, it said. Countries with milder conditions are among those with the highest mortality rates, as the houses are poorly equipped for the cold.

The number of deaths is the highest since its previous peak in 2008/09. In March, the mortality rate was 14% higher than average, with 1,582 excess deaths recorded each day.

There were 19.6% more deaths in the winter months compared to the rest of the year, up from 15.5% from 2011/12.

In 2009, Liam Donaldson, the UK chief medical officer, argued that many winter deaths are still preventable and more needed to be done to protect vulnerable people during the cold winter months.

Friends of the Earth Fuel Poverty Campaigner Sophie Neuburg said: “It’s scandalous that in a country like Britain in 2013, thousands of people die prematurely every winter because they live in housing that leaks heat.

“And this winter, as bills rise further and the number of homes being insulated falls, more people will perish.”

Green levies rollback

The UK government has introduced a ‘Green deal’ project, where householders can have insulation and heating improvements installed, which they then pay back through energy bill savings.

In January, the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) scheme was introduced, which funds energy efficiency improvements worth around £1.3 billion every year for low income households.

But there has been rising speculation that Chancellor George Osborne could scale back the program in the autumn budget statement, due out next week.

Paul King, Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council, said: “The Prime Minister should be in no doubt that these shocking figures are a direct result of how poorly insulated our homes are.

“If there is any rolling back of energy efficiency schemes such as ECO in the Autumn Statement, these disgraceful numbers are only going to get worse. How much more obvious could that be?”

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