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Labour Says Spike In Cold Deaths Underlines Urgency Of Home Insulation Scheme

End Fuel Poverty Coalition estimates almost 5,000 people died in 2022/23 due to cold damp homes. (Alamy)

5 min read

Labour has renewed calls for better home insulation in response to the "appalling and avoidable" increase in excess death estimates due to cold, damp homes.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has predicted from the latest government data that 4,950 excess winter deaths in the UK were caused by living in cold, damp homes during winter 2022/23, an increase of 1,721 people compared to estimates from last year. 

The latest figures from the Warm This Winter campaign also show that 8.3m adults in the UK are living in cold, damp homes.

Energy bills have soared in recent years following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and with Ofgem's energy price cap for January to March 2024 set at £1,928 a year – significantly higher than what it was in October 2021 at at £1,277 ,before the energy crisis began.

Exclusive polling for PoliticsHome in November by Savanta found 32 per cent of people were "very concerned" about whether they would be able to afford they energy bills this winter, with 44 per cent reporting they were "somewhat concerned". Only 17 per cent said they were "not really concerned", with just 5 per cent saying they were "not concerned at all". 

Kerry McCarthy, Labour's shadow climate minister, told PoliticsHome the latest excess death estimates from cold, damp homes demonstrated why a comprehensive plan to insulate the UK's homes was necessary.  

"This is an appalling and avoidable tragedy, underlining the urgent need for a renewed national effort to insulate homes and protect the vulnerable in winter," McCarthy said. 

“Sadly, energy efficiency rates are now 20 times lower than under the last Labour government, but Rishi Sunak has failed to act.

“Labour’s Warm Homes Plan would upgrade the millions of homes that need it, cutting bills and creating thousands of good jobs for electricians and engineers across the country.

“Only Labour can deliver the fairer, green future Britain needs. We will switch on GB Energy, a publicly owned energy company, to make Britain a clean energy superpower and lower household bills."

Simon Francis, co-ordinator at the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said there was a need for action "immediately" to bring people's energy bills down, particularly in light of the latest excess death figures. 

"I know that there's talk from some of the energy firms about prices coming down in April, but even next winter the predictions are that prices are still going to be 50 per cent, 60 per cent higher than they were in winter 2020/21," Francis told PoliticsHome. 

"We already have huge amounts of people living in fuel poverty and large numbers of people with excess winter deaths. 

"What we need to see is long term support for households in terms of their energy bills."

As well as urgent financial support, Francis said home insulation was vital and wanted to see political consensus on delivering affordable insulation to people's homes. 

"In the longer term, what we have to see is investment in people's energy efficiency and insulation and help people to do that - because people can't afford to insulate their homes," Francis continued. 

"It is out of the reach and affordability of lots of people – so the schemes that exist at the moment have been underdelivering and we really need to see cross party support for these programmes so that industry has the confidence to invest in them.

"And the next government, whatever political complexion it is, will guarantee that it will make support available to households to insulate their homes to improve energy efficiency – and for some it will mean grants. For others, it will mean interest free loans for landlords. It really needs to be a priority for all political parties to set out what they're going to do and to try and find some consensus for the industry."

Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners’ Convention, has accused the government of showing "disinterest" in the welfare of older people living in cold damp homes amid the latest excess death figures. 

“[The temperature] fell as low as -14 degrees this week and even in towns and cities it does not get much warmer until later in the day," Shortt said. 

"This presents a real dilemma for older people struggling with the cost of energy and other inflated bills – we know many are already afraid to turn the heating on at all. 

“Add to this the decision by Ofgem and the government to allow the force-fitting of energy prepayment meters to resume, while energy providers continue to enjoy inflated profits, smacks of abandonment of those struggling to pay their bills without any relief on the horizon.”

A government spokesperson said: “One tragic death is one too many and we are taking action to support the most vulnerable families to keep warm this winter.

“We are spending £104 billion supporting families with their bills - on average £3,700 per household - and while energy prices are lower than last winter, our Energy Price Guarantee remains in place to protect people until April next year.  We’re also continuing to support the most vulnerable, with three million households expected to benefit from the £150 Warm Home Discount, £900 for those on means-tested benefits, and an extra £150 for disabled people. 

“Our landmark Social Housing (Regulation) Act is now law, meaning rogue landlords can no longer hide from their responsibilities and must act quickly when issues are raised, including damp and mould, as we work to introduce strict time limits to fix homes through Awaab’s Law.”

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