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Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 00:54 GMT


Health

Cold 'killing 50,000' each winter

Many people die because they cannot afford heating bills

Some 50,000 people die every year in the UK because they cannot afford to pay their heating bills, according to Friends of the Earth.

It says the figures have remained more or less stable in the last five to 10 years and are the worst in Europe.

Children and old people are particularly vulnerable to the cold.

Friends of the Earth is demanding a 15-year programme to put an end to the thousands of deaths that occur each year in the UK as a result of the cold.

The environmental campaign group says it is taking a lead in the campaign to cut winter deaths because it believes energy conservation and insulation measures go hand in hand.

"We have not been so high profile before, but we have taken a policy decision that the environmental and social issues around energy conservation are two sides of the same coin," said a Friends of the Earth spokesman.

"You cannot tell people to save energy if that means they are cold in their homes," he added.

Practical steps

The campaign is supported by the Local Government Association, the NHS Confederation and a range of voluntary organisations, including Help the Aged and anti-poverty groups.

It aims to put pressure on the government to introduce legislation to "eradicate fuel poverty" and to encourage local councils and health authorities to take practical steps to cut winter deaths.

Friends of the Earth is lobbying for support for three parliamentary Bills:

  • The Warm Homes Bill which includes a 15-year rolling programme of energy efficiency work
  • The Health Care and Energy Efficiency Bill which would require health authorities to help patients have their homes insulated
  • The Fuel Poverty and Energy Conservation Bill which would require local authorities to subsidise home insulation measures.

The organisation says some councils and health authorities have been innovative.

For example, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Health Authority has subsidised insulation measures for children suffering from asthma which has relieved their symptoms.

About eight million households in Britain suffer from fuel poverty.

The campaign is being launched in the House of Commons on Thursday morning.

Campaigners have compiled a list of the number of winter deaths in every government constituency and are giving them out to all MPs in a bid to put extra pressure on them to support action on winter deaths.

The government has pledged to take action to reduce fuel poverty and has set up an inter-departmental working group on fuel poverty.

But Friends of the Earth says it is "fiddling the figures" and downplaying the extent of the fuel poverty problem.



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