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New figures from Friends of the Earth show how fuel poverty may be leading to extra deaths in winter. About 23% mor...
New figures from Friends of the Earth show how fuel poverty may be leading to extra deaths in winter. About 23% more people die in Britain every year during the four months from December to March than in the August to November or April to July periods. Britain has one of the worst records on winter deaths in the developed world, more than twice as high a rate as the USA, Denmark and West Germany, and higher even than former communist countries such as Bulgaria.

Most of the extra deaths are believed to be related to cold weather illnesses including flu, pneumonia and hypothermia. The elderly are particularly likely to be affected, partly because many cannot afford to heat their homes properly or install effective insulation.

Today sees the Campaign for Warm Homes launch a Bill to end fuel poverty. The Bill will be presented to Parliament by Linda Gilroy (MP for Plymouth Sutton). It is supported by over 200 MPs and one hundred local authorities. David Chaytor (MP for Bury North) will open a debate in the Commons on the day of the launch.

The Bill would require the government to begin a 15 year programme to provide comprehensive insulation and energy efficiency measures to 500,000 homes a year. 30,000 new jobs could be created, and the cost of cold weather to the NHS could be reduced by as much as£1 billion. Labour promised a National Home Energy Efficiency Programme in opposition, but attempts by environment front-bencher Michael Meacher to draft the details of the programme were blocked by Gordon Brown on public expenditure grounds.

FOE has now published for the first time a breakdown of excess winter deaths by local authority area. The figures show the largest number of excess deaths were in Birmingham with 839, Leeds with 607, Liverpool with 422, and Bradford with 395. Figures are available from FOE for every authority in England and Wales. The 20 local authority areas with the worst percentage increase in winter deaths compared with the rest of the year were:

South Northamptonshire DC 57.6%

Derbyshire Dales DC 55.0%

North Shropshire DC 53.7%

Chorley DC 48.7%

Denbighshire UA 48.0%

Selby DC 46.4%

Rutland DC 45.5%

Cannock Chase DC 44.2%

North Dorset DC 43.8%

North Kesteven DC 43.3%

Staffordshire Moorlands DC 42.8%

Rochford DC 42.7%

Shrewsbury and Atcham DC 40.3%

Daventry DC 40.2%

Stafford DC 39.7%

West Dorset DC 38.9%

South Ribble DC 38.0%

West Devon DC 37.9%

North Wiltshire DC 37.5%

Chiltern DC 37.4%

Data from the Office for National Statistics: Excess winter deaths are defined as the number of deaths in the four months from December to March less the average of the numbers during the preceding Autumn (August to November) and the following summer (April to July). The figures are for the period 1995/6 (the latest data available).

Commenting, Linda Gilroy MP said:

'I am delighted to be introducing this measure which will end the scandal of excess winter deaths. Every winter nearly 15 million people shiver in their own homes, because theirhouses cannot be kept warm. This appalling situation is entirely avoidable - and the Bill I am presenting sets out the way in which it can be ended.'

David Chaytor said:

'Everyone should be able to keep warm in their home, and the approach set out in the Warm Homes Bill would ensure that they could. The UK is unique among northern European countries in having such a large number of people dying of cold every winter. Even in colder countries such as Sweden this simply does not happen. By improving the energy efficiency of peoples houses as proposed in this Bill we can stop it happening here too.'

Ron Bailey, campaign coordinator for the Warm Homes Bill said:

'The breadth of support for this measure is demonstrated by the alliance of groups supporting it. It is supported by groups representing children, the churches, older people, environmental groups, housing groups and anti-poverty groups. These groups have seen that ending fuel poverty has benefits for health, jobs, the environment and public spending. We therefore call upon the government to back it.'

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