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Photo of older resident in cold home

Older, not colder

Posted on 17 February 2015

Age UK LogoThis is guest post by Alice Woudhuysen, Senior Campaigns Officer of
Age UK

Age UK’s campaign for warm homes

It’s been a bitter winter so far – the death rate in England and Wales in January was about one-third higher than normal for this time of year and deaths among older people were significantly higher in the six weeks after Christmas.

Over the last decade on average, cold weather has been responsible for the preventable deaths of around 25,000 older people each year - or one older person every seven minutes. This shocking public health scandal claims the lives of many more people than die in road fatalities each year, yet the problem remains largely ignored.

As well as the incalculable human cost of cold homes, there is also a huge financial cost. Age UK estimates that the NHS spends more than a billion pounds each year to treat the casualties of cold homes through hospital stays and follow up care support.

So why, in 21st century Britain, are we unable to heat our homes adequately and protect ourselves against cold weather?

Why do countries that experience much colder winter temperatures than the UK, such as Finland, Germany and France have significantly lower winter death rates than us?

The main reason is because the UK has the oldest houses in the EU, with over half built before 1960. On average, older UK homes require at least twice the energy to stay warm compared with many much colder European countries.

This, coupled with the fact that average household energy bills have doubled in only six years, from £600 a year to more than £1,200 a year, mean that millions of older people are forced to ration their heating during even the coldest weather to ensure they can pay their energy bills, putting their health at risk.

So what can we do about it?

Age UK’s campaign for warm homes is calling on all political parties to commit to driving forward a major energy efficiency programme, which should be area-based and locally driven and target the poorest and most energy inefficient homes first.

We want all political parties to make home energy efficiency an infrastructure investment priority in their manifestos. We’re calling for 2 million low income households with an energy performance rating of D, E, F or G to be upgraded to Band C by 2020, and for all low income households to be upgraded to an A or B rating (like today’s newly built housing) by 2030.

Not only would this save and improve lives; it would also cut annual energy bills by £300 per household, lift nine out of 10 households out of fuel poverty and reduce pressure and cost on the NHS.

There is also a strong economic case for this investment. Fewer power stations would be needed, new jobs would be created, the country would be less exposed to volatile (and increasing) global energy prices, and less dependent on unstable sources of supply. And of course there would be fewer carbon emissions, less global warming, and less air pollution.

So the solution to the problem of cold homes is within our grasp. Politicians now need the necessary imagination and political will to make it a reality and bring an end to the scandal of thousands of older people dying each winter.

To find out more and join the campaign, visit the Age UK website

About this post

This post is one of a series exploring the challenges of living in, and potential solutions to, fuel poverty in the UK as part of Groundwork's Show Winter Who's Boss campaign. Find out more about our campaign to help people take control of their energy bills by visiting the Show Winter Who's Boss page.