Pressure group urges government to act on winter deaths

A coalition of organisations including charities, fuel poverty groups and industry associations is urging the Government to announce additional ’emergency’ funding for heating and insulation measures to help reduce the thousands of deaths caused by cold related illnesses this winter.

The government is currently reviewing its future fuel poverty framework, aimed at implementing new regulations governing its fuel poverty strategy and minimum energy efficiency targets. Until this process is complete, the new Fuel Poverty strategy and targets are still subject to parliamentary process and will, therefore, have no impact on this winter.

According to a recent survey from Age UK, nearly 1 million older people live in fuel poverty and cannot afford to heat their homes to a sufficient temperature. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that people aged 75 or over are most vulnerable, leading to the Age UK report calling on the Government to upgrade the energy efficiency of these homes.

The ONS figures also found that an estimated 18,200 excess winter deaths occurred in England and Wales in 2013/14. While this is a significant reduction from 31,280 excess winter deaths in 2012/13 – and the lowest number of excess winter deaths since records began in 1950/51 – thousands are still at risk this year.

The latest figures published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) showed that support for the Affordable Warmth Scheme delivered through the ECO scheme has continued to plummet since late last year. Less than 6,000 measures were installed in September 2014 compared to nearly 30,000 in September 2013. The National Insulation Association (NIA), which is one of the organisations calling for government action, says this trend is likely to continue throughout the winter as the overall ECO Affordable Warmth Target to the end of March 2015 was virtually completed in June 2014. 

Neil Marshall, chief executive of the NIA and speaking on behalf of the coalition, said: “Poorly insulated homes are a major contributor to fuel poverty and excess winter deaths and it is therefore vital that Government takes immediate action though additional funding to enable thousands more vulnerable households to receive help through home insulation this winter.”

Dr. Joanne Wade, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, said: “To solve the problem of fuel poverty, we need to invest in energy efficiency measures in more than half a million low-income homes every year for the next ten years. Clearly the current level of activity under ECO is nowhere near adequate: government must take immediate action to begin to remedy this.”

Ed Matthew from the Energy Bill Revolution said: “Insulation of British homes has crashed this year. The solution is to make home energy efficiency the UK’s infrastructure investment priority. This can help millions of families warm their homes and create jobs in every part of the UK. No other infrastructure investment can achieve so much for so many.”

The group of organisations calling for action is also made up of more than  just industry bodies, with a number of charities and advisory groups also taking part.

Derek Lickorish, chair of the Government Fuel Poverty Advisory Group said: “While energy bills have increased by 140% since 2005, incomes have risen less than 30% over the same period. The problem of fuel poverty is a very serious issue and life threatening for the elderly and for those in poor health.

“By making just 1.5 million of the most inefficient fuel poor homes meet a decent standard of insulation with a modern heating system would save them over œ200 million each year off their fuel bi