The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released new statistics on excess winter deaths in the UK. The report states that the excess winter mortality index was highest in the West Midlands and lowest in the North East in 2013/14 but the report does cause area for concern. Reports from the met office stated that last year was an unusually mild winter which is expected to be the main cause in the reduction of death, but often the excess winter deaths can be avoided through education around fuel poverty. Surviving Winter 2014-15 is a campaign by the Community Foundation which launched in The Journal last month, and has so far raised over £10,000 to support fuel poverty education and save lives.
It is estimated by the ONS that the excess winter death index has reduced in the North East from 20.6% in 2012/13 to 9.8% in 2013/14. Actual figures have been released for 2012/13 to state that there were 870 excess winter deaths in the North East, with Gateshead having the highest EWD Mortality Index. However 870 deaths does not constitute a ‘good year’ and is part of a bigger picture of a crisis in the UK, as around a third of deaths can be traced back to fuel poverty, a cause which can be eliminated.
Surviving Winter 2014-15, a campaign led by the Community Foundation, is a call for local people who do not need their winter fuel allowance to donate it to those who do. The campaign, backed by The Journal and Evening Chronicle, raised over £22,000 to support Fuel Poverty work in the North East in 2013/14 and has currently raised over £10,000 so far this year to help older people this winter.
Age UK Gateshead received an award of £3,430 from the campaign and was able to help individuals in Gateshead receive access to benefits that they might have otherwise not have known about. Through the Surviving Winter grant from the Community Foundation, Age UK Gateshead were able to support 52 older people in Gateshead through income maximisation sessions that established 68 entitlement awards of £4,475 per week, which is an additional £232,700 in funding to reduce the risk of fuel poverty during winter.
One example of this is Mrs G, whose financial issues were first encountered as a result of an Initial Assessment for non-financial Age UK services in June 2014. During the course of the assessment, it became apparent the client had a major degree of difficulty in paying her everyday bills, and this was impacting quite severely on her mental health through anxiety.
Anxiety was a constant issue within the client’s life, meaning that at the start of the intervention she would not leave the house on her own. Mrs G’s social life was dramatically curtailed due both to her anxiety, and lack of funds to use to pursue social activities.
Age UK Gateshead ran an entitlement check for the client. As a result of the check and subsequent benefit applications using the Surviving Winter Fund sessions, the client was awarded an additional Pension Credit, and Attendance Allowance per week. As a knock-on effect of Age UK Gateshead and Surviving Winter, the client’s pre-existing Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit claims were increased to cover their entire rental and Council Tax liabilities.
Julie Latimer, Head of Customer Services at Age UK Gateshead said:
“Surviving Winter had a very positive effect on our client’s anxiety and social life. By working closely with our client, Mrs G now feels she is not only able to pay her bills, but has some money left over for social events. We would like to thank everyone who has donated to Surviving Winter and has allowed us to give independence back to local people.”
Karen Daglish, Fund Development Manager at the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland added:
“Through Surviving Winter we are able to collectively pool the resources of the community to make a larger impact in our region. By supporting the campaign you will help make the difference on whether someone can eat or heat their home, and give someone back their independence. Many excess winter deaths can be avoided and through Surviving Winter you can really help to make a difference to the lives of older people in the North East.”
To donate to your winter fuel allowance and help keep our communities warm please contact the Community Foundation on 0191 222 0945 or visit www.communityfoundation.org.uk/survivingwinter