Winter deaths drop is a ‘blip’

A DRAMATIC drop in the number of people killed by cold weather last winter has been described as a “blip” by campaigners who claim the Government’s energy policies have left “millions of vulnerable people shivering.”

The number of people killed by cold weather dropped last winter.

Warmer than average weather led to the lowest number of “excess winter deaths” since records began, and a 40 per cent drop from 2012/13, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Some 18,200 deaths from the cold were provisionally recorded in the 2013/14 winter, the lowest since the ONS began being collecting data in 1950/51. In Yorkshire and the Humber, 1,800 excess winter deaths were recorded, down 40 per cent from 2012/13, when it was 3,050.

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The number of people dying from influenza last winter was also the lowest for several years.

The ONS attributed to the drop to a slightly warmer than average December and January, when temperatures remained more than two degrees higher than the five-year average. Last winter was also the wettest since records began 250 years ago and the fifth warmest since 1910, the Met Office said in March.

Charities claimed the drop was a blip and urged people not to be complacent about warming their homes. Friends of the Earth’s Sophie Neuburg said: “The reduction in excess winter deaths is a short-term blip caused by last year’s unusually mild winter. It can’t cover up the fact that the Government’s energy efficiency policy is failing, leaving millions of vulnerable people shivering.”

The most at-risk groups were the over 75s, who accounted for 14,000 of the deaths last winter, and women were more likely to die than men.

Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said many of these deaths could have been prevented.

“Cold homes, caused by a number of factors including poor insulation and high energy costs, are a major cause of excess winter deaths,” she said. “In the short term we would urge all older people to claim the benefits they’re entitled to so they can afford to turn the heating up and stay warm. However the only long-term solution to this problem is an ambitious government-led programme to bring all our housing up to a high energy efficiency standard.”

Simon Bottery, director of policy at Independent Age, said the number of deaths were “unacceptable”. He said: “We are especially concerned that more than three-quarters of the deaths were among the over-75s.

“The Government should consider whether there is specific advice and support that should be given to this particularly vulnerable group.”

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said it was spending £2.15 billion on winter fuel payments for pensioners and had improved 750,000 homes through its Energy Company Obligation scheme.

He added: “This is all on top of an investment of over half a billion pounds in energy efficiency over three years.”