It’s Cold Homes Week and Age UK is raising awareness of the devastating effects of the cold on older people. In this guest blog post, Alan Maryon-Davis, who is Honorary Professor of Public Health at Kings College London, explains why the issue of cold homes is a massive public health crisis.
This week, Age UK is running Cold Homes Week, a week of action on fuel poverty and excess winter deaths.
It is now well understood that cold homes are dangerous. People who are vulnerable because of underlying health or mobility issues can face an increased risk in cold conditions from high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and respiratory illnesses, as well as dizziness, falls and depression.
The weather may still be relatively mild, but there’s no doubt that winter is just around the corner and for many older people, this is a huge worry. Age UK’s new research has found that 1 in 3 older people are concerned about keeping their home adequately warm this coming winter, and 70 per cent of older people are concerned about the high cost of energy.
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 “A new fuel poverty strategy”
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.
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”
At the heart of Age UK’s Warm Homes Campaign lies the conviction that the best way to insulate people from remorseless increases in energy costs and the health risks posed by cold homes is a major house refurbishment programme. The Green Deal was intended to drive that work – and upgrade 4m homes by 2020 – but the six month figures for the scheme are hapless, and we see no room for optimism any time soon.
As of mid-October, there are 219 Green Deal schemes in operation. True, there is a upstream pipeline of house surveys completed and Green Deal plans in preparation, but older householders seem rather underwhelmed. Whilst one in ten say their homes were not warm enough last winter and they would benefit from improved energy efficiency measures, 70% said they would not want a Green Deal. The most frequently cited reasons were aversion to debt, and seeing the ‘loan’ repayment scheme as too expensive. Continue reading “Green Deal performing poorly”