Fuel Poverty and Excess Winter Deaths
Nearly 90 per cent of all excess winter deaths are of people over the age of
65. Older people are particularly at risk of dying during the winter as they
are often less resilient to cold-related illnesses, especially people with
existing health problems.
For every degree Celsius that winter is colder than average, an extra
8000 deaths result.
Britain has one of the highest rates of
excess winter deaths in Europe
Excess Winter Deaths are defined by the Office of National Statistics. They
are the difference between the number of deaths during the four winter
months (December to March) and the average number of deaths during the
preceding autumn (August to November) and the following summer (April to
Exposure to the cold does affect the number of winter deaths, but it is very
unusual for the cold to kill people directly. In the main these deaths are
from respiratory or cardio-vascular ailments. Overall deaths are from heart
attacks, strokes, bronchial and other conditions, and may often occur
several days after exposure to the cold.
Spending too long in the cold will lower the body temperature which can
often aggravate circulatory diseases, which can lead to strokes and heart
attacks or respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
Other reasons why older people are particularly at
Older people with existing health problems are more at risk, so they need
to take extra care when it is cold.
Older people are less able to judge if they are warm or cold, meaning they
may not put on an extra jumper or put on the heating before they get too
Many older people tend to live in older houses with inefficient heating
systems and/or no insulation. This makes it harder to heat their homes.
Older people often try to cut their energy bills by reducing the amount of
heating they use or choosing to wrap up warm instead.
Older people on low incomes spend up to 30 per cent less on food than is
needed for a healthy balanced diet. This puts their physical and mental
well-being at risk and could make them more vulnerable to the cold.
Deaths from Cold Related Illnesses
The number of additional deaths (or excess
winter deaths) occurring in winter varies depending on temperature and the
level of disease in the population, as well as other factors. The elderly
experience the greatest increase in deaths each winter.
24,650 people over 65 died in 2005/2006.
During that period 2.5 million households were in fuel poverty.
There is a danger that with fuel poverty
levels rising to 5.5 million in 2007 this figure could seriously increase
especially if there is a Flu epidemic such as the one in 1999/2000 where
there were approximately 59,000 excess winter deaths.