Tag Archives: winter deaths

A Lesson from Siberia

Portrait of a old woman in winter

In 1993, two friends and colleagues of mine alighted from an internal flight in the heart of Siberia. The light was failing and the temperature plummeted as they wound their way from the landing strip into an endless forest. They were lost. Eventually, coming upon a wooden settlement, they found shelter with the village teacher, the only English speaker for many, many miles.

Professor Bill Keatinge later confided in me that he had learned two lessons from this incident. One was to learn Russian (which he later did, with some panache). The second was to dress like the Russians. Because Yakutsk, the city which they had come to visit, is the coldest city in the world. During their trip, the temperature fell to a mere -26C. The lowest winter temperatures reach -60.

And what, may we ask, was the attraction of this cold Siberian city? Ironically, the inhospitable, intractable, bone gnawing cold was the motivation for their journey. They were part of the Eurowinter Group, a collection of Europe’s finest scientists, whose mission was to unravel the complicated story of winter deaths in Europe. Until that time, no-one had a convincing explanation (scientists call this a ‘model’) of the pattern of winter deaths in Europe which varied from one country to another. And the prime question was why on earth should the British Isles, with its temperate maritime climate, be the villain of the piece, with many more ‘excess winter deaths’ than its colder European neighbours? Continue reading

A new fuel poverty strategy

A thermal image of a house

The fuel poverty strategy of 2001 (‘to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016′) has patently failed. A new one is promised in the current Energy Bill, which is completing its Parliamentary stages.

Within six months of the date of the Act receiving Royal Assent (in December or January), the Government is bound to propose a new strategy, after which there will be a public consultation, a Government response, and the tabling of the necessary secondary legislation. This ponderous process means we might not have a new strategy in place till early 2015 (though ministers hope to move faster), but clearly the thinking time has already started.

Age UK, with others, is in constant conversation with the Department of Energy & Climate Change. A key bone of contention is the targets to be set in the strategy, since these will only be real if there is funding to underpin them, and there is considerable uncertainty about the available funds. Continue reading

The shame of excess winter deaths

This morning the Office for National Statistics announced that there were 31,100 excess winter deaths last winter.

To say this is a national shame (as we have done) is both a cliché and also absolutely true.

Excess winter deaths – or the additional deaths during the winter months when compared to the rest of the year – are entirely preventable.

We know this because other countries with much harsher winters – such as the Scandinavian countries – have significantly fewer excess winter deaths.440x210_Snow-in-Shepton-Mal

Yet in the UK the numbers remain stubbornly high. Today’s figures show a 29% rise on the previous year and represent a four year high.

We all know that last winter was cold and long, but the figures are still unacceptable. That older people’s lives are still at the mercy of the weather in the twenty-first century is something we should rightly be ashamed of. Continue reading

Spread the Warmth

Shockingly, 24,000 older people in England and Wales may not survive the cold weather this winter – that’s 200 deaths a day that could be prevented.

Continue reading