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New excess winter death figures highlight crisis facing Wales

Calls to tackle the cold homes crisis in Wales have intensified after a new government report revealed there were 2,000 excess winter deaths in Wales last winter (2019/2020), excluding those from Covid-19.

Provisional figures* from the Office for National Statistics show that across England and Wales as a whole, there were an estimated 28,300 deaths during 2019/2020, a 20% increase on the previous year.

Excess winter deaths are defined as the difference between the number of deaths in the winter months (December to March) compared with the previous (August to November) and following (April to July) three months. The latest data excludes deaths from Covid-19 to ensure the figures are fully representative.

A leading body in the off-gas grid heating sector says many of these preventable deaths will have partly been caused by people living in cold homes, particularly in rural areas where properties are typically older, less energy efficient and harder to keep warm.

According to the report, living in cold temperatures can lead to high blood pressure and lowered immune systems which puts older people in particular at greater risk of developing respiratory diseases and other winter illnesses.

Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC, said: “It’s been an incredibly difficult year for everyone but we mustn’t forgot that, even without the impact of coronavirus, tens of thousands of preventable deaths are still recorded every year.

“Experts believe around a third of these fatalities are caused by living in cold homes and there are concerns that, with unemployment soaring and more time spent at home during lockdown, the issue could get worse as vulnerable households turn the thermostat down further to save money.”

OFTEC says that in rural areas of Wales, income levels tend to be lower and fuel poverty levels deeper which compounds the problem.

Malcolm added: “Unfortunately, we know that those least able to afford their heating costs often live in some of the most poorly insulated properties which means they are harder to keep warm.

“Significant government investment in these properties is urgently needed to help reduce the number of households in fuel poverty, drive down excess winter deaths and also help lower emissions as the UK looks to reduce its carbon footprint.

“It’s crucial that new green heating policies protect the vulnerable and don’t place additional financial burden on those already struggling. This means providing households with access to cheaper, more practical to install low carbon heating solutions than those currently supported, including renewable liquid fuels as a near drop-in replacement for those on heating oil.”

Households are reminded to have their heating system serviced annually to help prevent problems during winter and to use a GasSafe (for mains gas) or OFTEC (for oil or solid fuel) registered technician to ensure all work is carried out safely.