Cold homes are costing the NHS in England £1.36 billion every year in hospital and primary care due to their devastating impact on older people’s health, according to new analysis by Age UK.
In its new report ‘The Cost of Cold, it shows that each winter there are around 27,000 additional deaths in England and Wales, the vast majority among older people.
For each death, there are many more people who become seriously ill, needing hospitalisation in the short term and possibly social care in the longer term. Every death or serious illness is a personal tragedy for the individual and family involved – and these deaths are largely preventable. Other colder countries such as Finland have significantly lower death rates, due to better insulated homes and greater awareness of the need to keep warm.
Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign is promoting simple steps that older people can take to keep warm and protect their own health, such as keeping their bedroom windows closed at night. It is also working in partnership with the Met Office to pass on Cold Weather alerts to older people throughout the winter.
But to make serious progress on reducing winter deaths, urgent action is needed from political leaders nationally and locally.
Many local authorities are already addressing the issue through innovative programmes. As responsibility for public health is transferred to councils, there are new opportunities to make this issue a local priority, and to direct funding to preventative services.
At the root of the problem of excess winter deaths are cold, badly insulated homes. People living in the coldest homes are three times more likely to die from cold-related illness than those living in warmer homes. The average cost of making a property energy efficient is just £7,500 whereas the cost of keeping an older person in hospital is estimated at £1,750-£2,100 per week.
Local authorities have made big strides in this area. But there is a role for national government too. The new Green Deal may help some householders fund improvements, but for many people this simply won’t be the right approach.
To make cold-related deaths and ill-health a thing of the past the Government must provide substantial new investment in energy efficiency, which could be funded from carbon tax revenues coming on stream from next year. Age UK has recently joined the Energy Bill Revolution campaign and will be working with others to press for this.
Read the full report and find out more about Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign.