Excess deaths could rise as vulnerable skimp on heating, UK charities warn | UK cost of living crisis

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The current prolonged cold snap could prompt a sharp increase in excess death this winter as financial worries force vulnerable households to skimp on heating, charities have warned.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition fears there will be fatal consequences from the scale of those economising on heating, as forecasters predict the UK will be hit by sub-zero temperatures for the rest of the week.

Simon Francis, the group’s coordinator said: “People are now literally choosing between heating and dying. We obviously understand the financial pain that everyone is going through, but you can recover from debt, you can’t recover from dying. If people don’t have their heating on, they will end up at the doors of the NHS or even worse.”

Each year there are on average about 10,000 excess deaths caused by cold and damp homes. Francis fears there will be a record increase in such deaths this year because so many are struggling to pay bills.

He said: “We are concerned that as temperatures plummet, people cannot stay warm and the worst impacts of living in fuel poverty will be realised. That average excess deaths are based on years when energy bills were half what they are now.”

“We know that levels of fuel poverty are way ahead of where they were in previous years. The stories that we’re hearing from people are really heartbreaking.”

Mary, 72, a retired special needs teacher in Dollis Hill, north west London, said her fears of getting in debt are forcing her to skimp on heating.

She said: “I don’t consider myself poor. But I’m being forced into poverty. I’m petrified of getting bills that I can’t afford to pay, so I’m petrified of putting the heating on. I can see that if I get cold I could fall ill – and then what do I do?”

Francis urges those who are struggling to pay heating bills to contact their energy suppliers and charities for help.

Age UK said freezing temperatures had prompted an increase in the number of desperate calls to its advice line.

Its charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “Even with the extra help available this winter, energy prices will push nearly a third of older households – around 3m homes – into fuel poverty over the coming months.”

“We are hearing from increasing numbers of older people who have no idea how they’re going to get through the next few months, and are terrified to turn the heating up for fear of getting into debt. Because being cold increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks, we are really concerned that more people will die due to cold homes compared to previous years. The government must do everything possible to ensure that vulnerable older people have the confidence to turn on their heating during this extremely cold period.”

Peter Smith, policy director at National Energy Action, said: “More and more people are contacting us, desperately worried about being able to stay warm. Despite the freezing conditions, we know many people are currently too scared to turn their heating on, for fear for of getting deeper into debt, no matter the impact on their physical or mental health. We are extremely worried this could lead to an increase in the number of excess winter deaths.”

He added: “The government must ensure everyone can access the support they are entitled to. This is especially a priority in Northern Ireland where vital bill support is still yet to be rolled out. Overall, we need to make the retail energy market fairer for vulnerable households. They didn’t cause the current crisis but are paying dearly, daily for it.”

The fairness campaign 38 Degrees, has been mapping the cost of living crisis, by collecting hundreds of stories from those terrified about how they’re going to pay their bills.

Matt Richards, its campaign manager, said the exercise showed people are “facing a battle for survival this winter: for some, it’s no longer a choice between heating or eating, but a brutal reality of not being able to afford either as we head into the coldest months. The government must urgently step in to prevent this catastrophe, and make sure no one is left in the cold.”

Erika Radford, head of health advice at Asthma + Lung UK, said: “Winter is already a deadly time for people with lung conditions and the last thing we want to see is more people being rushed to hospital fighting for breath, because of exposure to the cold. We are urging the government to step up for people with lung conditions and introduce more targeted support to help people keep their homes warm this winter.”

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