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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 11:40 GMT
Campaign to end deaths from cold
Help the Aged poster showing coffin in crematorium, headed 'warm at last'
Help the Aged said deaths from the cold were 'unacceptable'
The government has been urged to do more to reduce the number of elderly people dying from the cold each winter.

Help the Aged said it was "disgraceful" that 21,500 people over 65 died during cold weather in England and Wales last winter and a further 2,900 in Scotland.

It said this was much higher than in other comparable European countries and is launching a campaign calling for more action to tackle fuel poverty.

The government pointed to its record of investment through winter payments.

In a nation that has the fourth largest economy in the world it is simply not acceptable that our older people should die as a direct result of cold weather.
Paul Cann

Help the Aged has teamed up with British Gas for a campaign calling for action to protect elderly people living in damp and poorly insulated homes.

It has launched a similar campaign in Scotland with Scottish Gas.

Poor housing conditions can increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks and respiratory illnesses, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

The campaigns, being launched on Tuesday, feature an image of a coffin passing through the curtains in a crematorium, with the title "Warm at Last".

Help the Aged says more than one million older people in England are living in fuel poverty, a major cause of winter deaths.

The government has pledged to eradicate fuel poverty in households with older people, the disabled and children by 2010.

More action needed

But a survey of almost 100 MPs found that six out of 10 (59%) believed the government's strategy to tackle the underlying causes of excess winter deaths was failing to reach those most in need.

Another poll of more than 1,000 over-65s on low incomes found that 64% in England and Wales had not heard of the schemes which were already in place to help them beat the cold.

The new initiative calls for elderly people to be given practical help to keep their homes warm.

A pensioner by a heater

It also calls for England and Wales to adopt the Scottish policy of trying to ensure all pensioner households have access to central heating and insulation.

Paul Cann, Help the Aged's director of policy said: "We cannot stand by any longer and see over 20,000 winter deaths year on year.

"The root problems are simply not being adequately tackled.

"We need to see more robust action to deal with this preventable loss of life and a greater will to put in place more ambitious measures.

"In a nation that has the fourth largest economy in the world, and values human rights and dignity, it is simply not acceptable that our older people should die as a direct result of cold weather."

Mr Cann also criticised an increase of 400 extra deaths from cold-related illness in Scotland last winter.

Government efforts

"Whilst welcoming its successful reduction through the ongoing implementation of the Scottish Executive's central heating programme, we are worried that the number of excess winter deaths has increased this year," he said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs said 11m people in 8m homes had benefited from winter fuel payments, which had risen to 300 a year for everybody over the age of 80.

In addition, 600m had been invested in the government's Warm Front scheme, which provides help with central heating and insulation, since 2000, with another 140m due to be invested in the coming three years.

The Department of Health said 71% of people over 65 would this year receive a flu vaccination - the highest proportion in Europe - and there were plans to vaccinate everybody over 75 against pneumococcal disease.




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SEE ALSO:
Cold weather 'killed thousands'
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