Warning over winter cold deaths

LORNA MARSH Soaring energy prices were last night blamed for claiming the lives of hundreds of pensioners in Norfolk as new figures showed that the number of people who die during the winter because of the cold has doubled in parts of the county.

LORNA MARSH

Soaring energy prices were last night blamed for claiming the lives of hundreds of pensioners in Norfolk as new figures showed that the number of people who die during the winter because of the cold has doubled in parts of the county.

The latest figures reveal that Norfolk, along with Fenland and north Suffolk, suffers a much higher winter mortality toll than the national average.

Elderly people in deprived areas struggling to meet increasing heating costs are among the worst hit - with a third more deaths in Yarmouth alone in winter months compared to the rest of the year.

The borough's winter death toll more than double last year compared to the previous winter. The same phenomenon was seen in Breckland, Fenland and Norwich and MP Norman Lamb said it was clear it was related to soaring gas and electricity prices.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) looks at deaths between December and March, and compares them to those during the rest of the year.

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The data shows that Norfolk, north Suffolk and Fenland saw 780 “excess winter deaths” in 2004/05 - nearly 22pc more than during the warmer months last year.

Nationally there were 15.6pc more deaths in winter than over the remainder of the year, compared to 33pc in Yarmouth, 28.2pc in Fenland, 26.4pc in King's Lynn and West Norfolk and 26.2pc in Breckland.

Age Concern said nearly 90pc of all excess winter deaths are of people over the age of 65.

“It is a national scandal that so many people over 65 are put at risk every winter,” said Gordon Lishman, Age Concern's director general.

“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.”

Along with Help the Aged, it is calling for on an increase in the government's £200 winter fuel payment.

Steve Jones, director of communications at Help the Aged, said: “Many pensioners still agonise about whether or not to heat their homes in the cold weather. In the world's fourth richest country, this is simply shameful.

The Department of Health said winter fuel and cold weather payments and publicity campaigns have helped older people to lead healthier lives.

Mr Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, one of the few areas that saw the number of deaths fall last year, nevertheless acknowledged the huge problem - and warned it would get worse unless action was taken.

He called for more home insulation to not only slash the number of deaths and reduce bills but also help the environment.

Mr Lamb added: “If you are poor any massive hike in energy prices means you cannot afford to heat your home properly. The government's heating allowance is just putting a plaster over the problem.”

However Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, said that funding was available through the Warm Front scheme to help insulate homes but called for the ministers to nearly double the £200 winter allowance to £350.

“It is unbelievable in this day and age that people are dying of cold when there is so much support available. It is time for people to swallow their pride and get what you are owed.”

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