Death fears as fuel prices set to rocket for poorest Herts households
New figures reveal there were 520 excess deaths in Hertfordshire in the winter leading into the coronavirus pandemic – excluding those from Covid-19.
The 'Excess Winter Mortality' report from the Office for National Statistics shows that from the start of December 2019 to the end of March 2020 there were 29,290 excess deaths, excluding Covid-19, across England and Wales. Figures for last winter (2020-21) have yet to be released.
Excess winter deaths are defined as the difference between the number of deaths recorded in the cold months (December to March) compared with the average number of deaths in the warmer four-month periods before (August-November) and after (April-July).
Living in cold temperatures can lead to high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, which puts older people in particular at greater risk of developing respiratory and cardiovascular disease alongside other seasonal illnesses.
Public Health England suggests that 22% – over a fifth – of excess deaths in winter are directly linked to cold homes.
In Hertfordshire, around 54,500 households are classed as 'fuel poor', which means their disposable income after energy costs puts them below the poverty line, and their home has an energy efficiency (EPC) rating of D or below.
This year, wholesale gas prices have rocketed, with experts predicting that average annual energy bills could soar to about £2,000 next year. Consumers are protected from big rises in wholesale costs by a price cap set by regulator Ofgem. However, this limit is due to change in April. Meanwhile, more than 20 energy companies unable to pass on the hike have collapsed, affecting nearly four million customers.
Malcolm Farrow, from OFTEC (Oil Firing Technical Association), said: "As we face another winter in the midst of a global pandemic, our attention is rightly placed on protecting as many people as possible from infection. We must not forget, however, that even without the impact of the coronavirus, thousands of people continue to die in avoidable circumstances because they live in a cold home.
"Experts believe that people who are older, live with long-term health conditions or have lower average income are most at risk of winter illness or mortality.
"We have serious concerns that another cold winter, coupled with rising living costs and the ongoing risk posed by coronavirus, could make this situation much worse, as more households face a stark choice between heating and eating."