Scandal of cold killer

Millions of older people live in misery during the winter because they just can t afford to heat their homes. In England and Wales, 1.5 million households, occupied by older people, don t have proper insulation or heating. Half of all UK homes where elder

Millions of older people live in misery during the winter because they just can't afford to heat their homes.

In England and Wales, 1.5 million households, occupied by older people, don't have proper insulation or heating.

Half of all UK homes where elderly people live and struggle to afford their heating bills don't have cavity walls that could be insulated.

Figures for winter deaths in England and Wales are far higher than in other European countries, such as Sweden, with a similar climate.

Age Concern says the figures are a national scandal and the key factor causing older people to die from cold is poverty.

In East Cambridgeshire, 12 more elderly people die each month in the winter compared with other months, bringing the total number of deaths amongst the over 65s on average to around 200 between December and March.

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Dr Liz Robin, director of public health for Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trust, said: "Some of these deaths are preventable by keeping warm - indoors with adequate heating, insulation and ventilation, and when outdoors by wearing warm clothing and keeping moving.

"The PCT works closely with partner agencies to support those most at risk from cold homes. For example, health and social care staff work with energy efficiency teams in district councils to provide information to older people on how best to heat and insulate their homes, and the grants which may be available."

Low pensions, low benefit take-up and sky-high fuel costs mean that more than five million older people in England are living in cold homes.

Now the Department of Health has joined forces with Age Concern, Help the Aged and the Womens' Royal Voluntary Service among other organisations to launch a Keep Warm Keep Well campaign.

Age Concern's director general, Gordon Lishman, said: "It's a national scandal that so many people over 65 are put at risk every winter. More needs to be done for older people during the winter months so that they can heat their homes adequately without worrying about the cost.

"The Government must ensure that decent housing, energy efficiency measures and a higher basic state pension are in place to help older people stay warm. It must also act to ease the burden of rising energy bills by upping the Winter Fuel Payment by £100."

Help the Aged is also calling for a rise in the winter fuel payment or the basic state pension and more investment in new technologies for older people's homes, such as affordable 'greener' energy alternatives in homes where insulation cannot be fitted.

A spokesman said: "Since the turn of the century nearly 160,000 older people in the UK have died from cold-related illnesses such as bronchitis and strokes. Fixed incomes, rising fuel prices, housing conditions and the attitude and behaviour of older people all play their part in contributing to the scandalous number who die each year, not counting the thousands more who suffer in misery."

INFO: For advice on improving home insulation and heating and what grants might be available, contact Mark Woolhouse, East Cambridgeshire District Council's energy efficiency officer on 01353 616251.

Age Concern Cambridgeshire can be contacted on 01354 696677. Further winter information is available from its helpline on 0800 00 99. For health queries contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

Keep warm to stay well

TAKING simple measures can ensure a warm and safe winter for the elderly.

Help the Aged has listed simple tips to follow:

- Eat for warmth - regular hot meals and drinks provide warmth and energy.

- Keep moving - any activity, even vacuuming, gets circulation going and makes you feel warmer.

- Dress appropriately - wrap up warmly indoors and out, ideally several layers of thin clothing.

- Keep your home at the right temperature - hang thermometers in the living room and bedroom and keep temperatures between 21 and 24 degrees centigrade.

- Keep warm at night - wear the right clothing in bed.

- Insulate your home - double glazing, loft and cavity wall insulation, a thick curtain on front and back doors and draught-proofing strips are all good means of trapping warmth in the home.

- Get a flu jab.

- Sleep with windows closed - cold air on the head at night increases blood pressure.

- Claim rightful benefits and grants. Call SeniorLine to find out more on 0808 800 6565.

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