More than 80 people died in the South West as a result of living in cold damp homes in December 2022, say anti-poverty campaigners. Based on new analysis by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition of official data for December 2022, the levels of excess winter deaths caused by cold homes exceeded those of the Covid-pandemic-affected data of December 2020.

In total there were 81 excess winter deaths caused by living in cold damp homes in the South West region in December 2022, compared to 60 in December 2020. In December 2021 there were 86.

Over the course of the whole of winter 2021/22 there were 2,731 excess winter deaths in England caused by living in cold damp homes. Figures calculated by the Coalition using official government data (including that from devolved statistical bodies), puts the total excess winter deaths in the UK for winter 2021/22 at 15,069. It says 3,240 of these were as a result of living in cold conditions.

Over the last ten years, the average number of deaths each winter in the UK caused by cold damp homes now stands at 7,409. The figures come as members of the National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC) and Fuel Poverty Action, backed by the Warm This Winter campaign, held a minute’s silence and funeral march in memory of those who have died.

The demonstration follows on from a day of action on fuel poverty co-ordinated by the Warm This Winter campaign which saw events take place up and down the country in December 2022.

And amid the fears about the health risks of forced switching to prepayment meters, more than 91,000 people have signed a petition, launched by campaign group 38 Degrees, calling on energy suppliers to end the practice.

On Wednesday, more than 1,700 people also sent personal messages via 38 Degrees to the CEOs of their energy company, urging them to end forced transfer for good.

Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, which is also part of the Warm This Winter campaign, commented: "The energy bills crisis has its roots in Westminster and the Government's failure over decades to help us insulate our homes and secure a renewable-led energy grid.

“The cost of this failure is now being felt by the elderly, disabled, those with health conditions and young families. Even in mild winters, we see huge levels of excess winter deaths caused by living in cold damp homes which put our country to shame.

“We need urgent additional financial support for the most vulnerable this winter and next and a significant ramping up of insulation and energy efficiency schemes."

NPC General Secretary Jan Shortt said: “It is shameful that anyone should die from cold related illness in this country. But we fear that the rocketing cost of living, rampant energy prices, and the disastrous crisis in the NHS and social care will see tens of thousands more die in this way.

“It’s time the government took action to end this horrific annual cull of our oldest and most vulnerable.”

Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action added: “A large part of the crisis has been caused by energy firms forcing people onto prepayment meters. Many people rely on energy to power stair lifts, wheelchairs, hearing and respiratory aids as well as the heat, light, refrigeration and connectivity that we all depend on. If a pre-payment meter then runs out of credit and this equipment can’t be used, it turns energy debt into a death sentence for many.”

Matt Richards, Campaign Manager at 38 Degrees, said: “The life-threatening risks of a home without power are made starkly clear by these horrifying figures. Yet by forcing people on to pre-payment, energy companies continue to put their customers at risk of being left in the cold and dark when the meter runs out. The Government and energy companies must act together to protect the most vulnerable, so this winter’s tragedies are not repeated next year.”

Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said: "Cold, damp and poorly insulated homes are known to have a terrible impact on health, leading in the worst cases to too many early and avoidable deaths here in the UK.

"But they're also an environmental disaster, because they require more energy to stay warm, which means more emissions unleashed into our atmosphere.

"We're already seeing the devastating consequences of burning fossil fuels - including gas for our heating - through extreme weather events all over the globe. And too often it's the communities that have contributed least to climate change that are the worst impacted. By insulating homes and switching to greener heating, we can save not only lives here in the UK, but overseas too."