Let’s help those most at risk survive the winter
Justin Sargent, chief executive at Somerset Community Foundation, says it has never been more vital to support the Surviving Winter campaign
PERHAPS at any other time, the 32,000 ‘excess winter deaths’ in the winter of 2016/17 - which is the highest since the mid-1970s - would have attracted far more attention than it did last week. So, it is worth repeating: 32,000 excess winter deaths.
Bringing this closer to home, here in Somerset, recent Government figures reveal there are on average 440 excess winter deaths each winter, mainly affecting older people. That is the equivalent of the population of a small village. Of course, that is not where it ends. For every excess win- ter death there are dozens of people struggling in fuel poverty and in poor health who suffer great hardship.
While 2016/17 may have been an exceptional peak, the fact is that the UK has, on a like-for-like basis, the second highest rate of winter mortality out of 30 European countries, according to analysis carried out by E3G and National Energy Action.
It is a record we should be thoroughly ashamed of, particularly as the Government’s Chief Medical Officer in 2010 argued that many of these deaths, and by extension the suffering and hardship, are preventable.
While I would not for one minute pretend that the factors contributing to these winter deaths are anything other than complex, surely in one of the wealthiest countries in the world we can do something to ensure people do not have to live in cold homes unnecessarily.
Apart from the human suffering, the cost of cold homes to the Government has been estimated to be £1.36 billion each year. We know that the type of old houses in rural areas are difficult and expensive to keep warm and insulated.
Almost 50 per cent of Somerset’s population is rural, and many of these properties rely on more expensive sources of energy, such as heating oil or LPG. Perhaps it is not surprising, therefore, that in 2016/17, the average excess winter deaths were 25 per cent higher in Somerset than the averages across the rest of the South West.
I am not naïve enough to think this will be solved overnight. It requires concerted and co-ordinated action across Government at all levels, and there are many organisations campaigning on just that point. Just as we have a responsibility to pay our taxes to enable the Government to do its job, though, do we not also have a responsibility as members of our communities? Sometimes it is the little actions that make the biggest difference.
We are much more aware of loneliness and mental health these days, but both can be exacerbated by cold
The UK has the second highest rate of winter mortality out of 30 European