This guest blog was contributed by Dan Jarvis MP.
During the winter of 2011/12, 24,000 people died as a result of plummeting temperatures and soaring heating bills. These deaths did not come without warning. Similar numbers have died every winter for decades. As winter draws upon us again, it is unacceptable that many people face an uncertain and dangerous future, simply because they cannot afford to keep themselves warm.
19,500 winter deaths, of the total of 24,000, happened amongst those aged over 75. These men and women worked hard contributing to our society on the understanding that they will be cared for if the need arises, and they deserve far better treatment in these cold months.
Care for the elderly is an important yardstick by which societies should be measured. It is unacceptable that in modern Britain, which despite economic recession is still a relatively prosperous nation, vulnerable people are at risk simply because they cannot afford to heat their homes properly.
As well as a moral tragedy, fuel poverty is an economic scandal. The former Chief Medical Officer, estimated that cold homes cost the NHS £850 million every year. An end to the unacceptable levels of cold winter deaths would not only save lives during the winter months, but the savings made would help to save countless more lives.
Britain is of course not alone in suffering from the ravages of winter, but we do not compare favourably on an international level. Keeping heat in our homes is a cost-effective solution which has been proved to save lives. The average cost of making a home energy-efficient is £7,500, but keeping an older person in hospital can cost up to £2,100 per week. The prevention of fuel poverty is clearly a more cost-effective solution than its treatment.
A sustainable solution to fuel poverty will not be achieved without reforming the energy market. To provide targeted help to our elderly, the government must ensure that the oldest in our society are given the best energy deals. Energy companies should be required to put all of their customers over the age of 75 are on the cheapest tariff available. This fair and reasonable demand could save up to four million pensioners as much as £200 a year, and push more individuals and families out of fuel poverty.
Improving the energy efficiency standards of today’s homes, and making the energy sector fair for consumers, are other long-term solutions that will make for better public health, an enhanced economy, and a sustainable environment. But above all, they are crucial steps in ending the national scandal of excess winter deaths amongst our most vulnerable that the Government must deliver.