Old folk under threat as cold snap sets in

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Dozens of older and vulnerable people could die in South Holland this winter because of the cold.

As the district braces itself for an icy snap this weekend, shocking figures which show that more than 50 people a year die as a result of winter-related problems have been described as “unforgiveable”.

Excess winter deaths – the number of extra deaths in the winter compared to the summer – have a number of causes, such as an increase in respiratory problems, complications arising from falls in slippery conditions, as well as flu epidemics and even hypothermia.

Latest figures show South Holland has one of the worst records in the county for these extra deaths – many believed to be related to the district’s high levels of fuel poverty.

Around 20 per cent of households in South Holland are classed as living in fuel poverty – meaning they spend more than ten per cent of their income on energy bills.

This can result in those – particularly older and vulnerable people – who are struggling to make ends meet, have to make difficult choices, such as eating or heating – which can result in serious health problems and even death.

Richard Barclay, of Age UK South Holland and Boston, said: “It is absolutely unforgiveable in this day and age that people are dying in their own homes because of the cold.

“This terrible tragedy is happening right here on our doorstep in South Holland and it must stop now.”

Last winter pensioners at risk from the cold were handed slippers, hot water bottles and even heaters to help them keep warm.

This year Age UK, Spalding is hoping it will once again be able to offer such simple but vital help to its most needy clients, via the Responders to Warmth scheme.

Last week, Age UK launched its own Spread the Warmth campaign, which calls on MPs and local councils to make cold-related winter deaths a public health priority.

After all, figures released by the charity show illnesses related to living in cold homes cost the NHS £1.36billion a year and result in up to 27,000 extra deaths each winter nationally.

During the campaign Age UK in South Holland will provide benefit checks to help older people make sure they are receiving all the money they are entitled to, as well as offering snow clearance services, shopping support and befriending visits.

There will also be Christmas events to help fight isolation and room thermometers will be given out to alert people when their room falls below a safe temperature.

Mr Barclay said: “Winter throws up kinds of problems for older people and vulnerable members of society.

“Just the fact days are shorter can make people feel on a low ebb, then you add on the difficulties of getting out and about in bad weather, the isolation and the risk of falls and ending up in hospital, and it can be a very difficult, miserable time.

“Much of the advice we offer is common sense but it is always worth reminding people of some of those things, such as heating just one or two rooms if they are worried about the cost.

“We would also remind neighbours, friends and relatives do keep an eye on the older people they know to make sure they stay safe this winter.

“One of the big problems can be isolation, when people can be stranded in their own homes for days on end.”

To ask for help and advice on staying safe this winter, for yourself or on behalf of someone else, call Age UK Spalding on 01775 720305 or Age UK South Holland and Boston on 01205 364161.