The number of excess winter deaths in England and Wales reached the highest level in more than four decades in 2017/18, according to new figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

At more than 50,000, the provisional estimate is up 45 per cent on the previous year’s tally and more than double the number seen in 2015/16. The last time the total was higher was in 1975/76 when it surpassed 58,000.

National Energy Action (NEA) said more than 15,000 of these deaths could be directly related to fuel poverty. The figure is based on a World Health Organisation estimate that 30 per cent of excess winter deaths in Europe could be attributed to cold homes.

“The cost in human suffering and lost lives is a tragedy,” said NEA chief executive Adam Scorer. “The cost to the NHS is significant and largely avoidable.

“Predictable, preventable and shameful. We seem to have accepted excess winter deaths to be as much a part of winter as darker evenings.”

Nick Stripe, head of health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: “It is likely that last winter’s increase was due to the predominant strain of flu, the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine and below-average winter temperatures”.

Excess winter deaths since 1950/51

Source: Office for National Statistics

NEA said evidence from its front-line workers shows fuel poverty is driving many households to use older, dangerous or un-serviced heating appliances, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and in extreme cases, fires and explosions. It said many more are going to bed early to keep warm and using candles to save on electricity.

The charity, which recently launched its annual Warm and Safe Homes campaign to raise public awareness of fuel poverty, has called for urgent action to address the issue. Among its policy priorities are expanding access to the Warm Home Discount, improving energy efficiency schemes and incentivising network companies to take action.

Top ten coping strategies

Source: NEA

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