“When I was young, being cold wasn’t an issue, it never occurred to me it could be a problem. But as I’ve got older staying warm has become my priority. Being older, and less active, it’s so hard to ward off the cold.” Dreda, 94
Winter brings many challenges for us as we get older – dark days mean people get out less, and ice and snow can increase the fear and risk of falling. But research shows that cold is the biggest killer.
Today, Age UK is releasing a new report ‘The Cost of Cold’. It highlights the fact that each winter there are around 27,000 additional deaths in England and Wales, the vast majority among older people.
For each death, there are many more people who become seriously ill, needing hospitalisation in the short term and possibly social care in the longer term. Age UK’s new analysis finds that the cost to the NHS in England from cold homes alone is likely to be around £1.36 billion a year.
Every death or serious illness is a personal tragedy for the individual and family involved – and these deaths are largely preventable. Other colder countries such as Finland have significantly lower death rates, due to better insulated homes and greater awareness of the need to keep warm.
Through our Spread the Warmth campaign, we are highlighting simple steps that older people can take to keep warm and protect their own health, such as keeping their bedroom windows closed at night, or covering their face and hands when out in the cold. Thanks to our partnership with the Met Office we are able to pass on the Cold Weather alerts to older people via our local Age UK partners throughout the winter.
But to make serious progress on reducing winter deaths, we also need urgent action from political leaders nationally and locally.
Many local authorities are already addressing the issue through innovative programmes, often working with local Age UKs. As responsibility for public health is transferred to councils, there are new opportunities to make this issue a local priority, and to direct funding to preventative services.
At the root of the problem of excess winter deaths are cold, badly insulated homes. People living in the coldest homes are three times more likely to die from cold-related illness than those living in warmer homes. The average cost of making a property energy efficient is just £7,500 whereas the cost of keeping an older person in hospital is estimated at £1,750-£2,100 per week.
Local authorities have made big strides in this area. But there is a role for national government too. The new Green Deal may help some householders fund improvements, but for many people this simply won’t be the right approach.
To make cold-related deaths and ill-health a thing of the past, the Government must provide substantial new investment in energy efficiency, which could be funded from carbon tax revenues coming on stream from next year. Age UK has recently joined the Energy Bill Revolution campaign and will be working with others to press for this.
Please add your voice to the campaign by emailing your MP and asking for their support. Follow this link to email your MP