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 “The shame of excess winter deaths”

A dream retirement – or a chilly future?

Moving to a park home can be a dream retirement for many people – an affordable way of downsizing to a friendly and attractive location. It’s estimated that around 160,000 people live in park homes in England.

But it can also have challenges, and one of these is keeping warm in the winter. A park homeAge UK has been contacted by a number of older residents of park homes in connection with our warm homes campaign.

I just want to mention the millions of forgotten elderly throughout the country who live in Park Homes where cavity wall and loft insulation do not apply. No one considers them!

I live in a Park Home and we, as a group of older people, have even greater problems… My winter bills are in excess for £140 per month. We would just like some help to make our homes more energy efficient. Continue reading “A dream retirement – or a chilly future?”

Keeping warm, whatever the price, whatever the weather


I am beginning to think that winter is never going to end. By now we should have mild March breezes, sunshine and showers – and daffodils. But instead we’re facing icy winds from the East and 10-foot snowdrifts.

But of course, that’s the British weather. With all our technology, we can just about predict it, but we certainly can’t control it.

At the end of a long cold winter, we are also facing steeply-rising energy prices. The Office for Budget Responsibility this week predicted a 7% rise in energy costs this year, and a 3% rise next year. Continue reading “Keeping warm, whatever the price, whatever the weather”

Why we need an Energy Bill Revolution

With the longest cold snap of the winter still underway, and snow covering much of the country, what can be done to protect older people from the cold?

As we get older, we become more vulnerable to the effects of cold. If you have read previous Age UK blogs, you’ll be familiar with the statistics: around 25,000 additional deaths each winter compared to the rest of the year in England and Wales, the majority of which are older people.

For every one degree the average winter temperature drops below 18 degrees C, there are 8,000 additional winter deaths. Following a cold snap in a British winter, there is a predictable pattern: a peak of deaths due to heart attacks two days later, a peak of strokes five days later, and a peak of deaths due to breathing problems twelve days later.

It’s simple, and devastating, and something which we should all be shouting about.

At Age UK we’re helping to make people aware of the health risks of cold and the simple steps – like keeping bedroom windows closed at night – that older people can take to protect their health.

Photo: Ell Brown (Creative Commons)
Photo: Ell Brown (Creative Commons)

But the bottom line is that many older people simply cannot afford to keep their home warm enough. Age UK estimates that around 6 million older people are currently living in fuel poverty (in other words, they would have to spend more than 10% of their income in order to heat their homes adequately). Increasing fuel prices this winter mean this situation is set to get worse. Continue reading “Why we need an Energy Bill Revolution”

The Cost of Cold

“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. Continue reading “The Cost of Cold”

Will there be Warm Homes, Healthy People this winter?

It’s the last day of August, and frankly I’m clinging to the hope that this pretty miserable summer will give us at least a few warm days this September before it’s done. So I really don’t want to be thinking about the cold dark days of winter which may be just a couple of months away.

But actually my working days at the moment are spent thinking about nothing else. For many older people, the onset of winter is not a good time, especially if your home is cold and poorly insulated or you cannot afford ever increasing fuel bills.

Over the last ten years, there have been around 26,700 additional deaths each winter, when compared to the other months of the year (ONS). The vast majority of these ‘excess winter deaths’ – more than ninety per cent – are among older people. There is also an associated increase in GP visits, hospital admissions and social care calls due to cold weather. This useful website gives a picture of the situation across England.

This ‘phenomenon’ (as the scientists call it – I prefer the term ‘disgrace’) has been well studied. We know, for example, that the primary risk factor is exposure to cold. And we know that 40 per cent of deaths are due to cardiovascular problems – heart attacks and strokes – and another 30 per cent to respiratory issues. Hypothermia is relatively rare, and influenza is generally only a significant factor when there is an epidemic. Continue reading “Will there be Warm Homes, Healthy People this winter?”

The Take Action award: for people who stand up and speak up

At the Care and Support Alliance mass lobby of parliament a couple of months ago, I spent some time briefing Age UK campaigners before they went in to see their MPs. It was lovely to meet so many people who had taken the time and trouble to come to Westminster to make their voices heard.

Some of those I spoke to had done this kind of thing before and were feeling quite confident at getting their points across. For others, it was a new experience. I remember one woman in particular who was very apprehensive at the thought of meeting her high-profile MP. ‘I have to tell you I am really out of my comfort zone on this,’ she said, ‘But I just thought if I didn’t come down to London to tell my MP how important care is, who would?’

I really admired her courage in standing up and speaking out – which is what campaigning is all about. The really good news is when I spoke to her again after she had met her MP, she was a different person, full of confidence. ‘Yes, he really did listen to me,’ she said.

Age UK’s campaigns rely on people like her, who are prepared to take their courage in both hands and stand up and be counted. And we want to celebrate and encourage all campaigners in later life, whatever issue they are campaigning on.

That is why Age UK is supporting the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK) in sponsoring the Take Action award for older campaigners again this year.

SMK was set up in memory of the legendary campaigner Sheila McKechnie, and is the only UK registered charity dedicated to connecting, informing and supporting campaigners. The Campaigner Awards are for people who want to make a difference and want some support in getting results.

Last year’s winner of the Take Action award was Kathleen Carter, an inspiring and determined campaigner from Stockton-on-Tees, who has challenged ‘payday loan’ companies who charge massive interest rates for short term loans.

You can read more about Kathleen’s experience here.

In the meantime, if you know of any campaigners who are aged 60+ and deserve recognition and the support that SMK can offer, please nominate them for this year’s Take Action award.