When the Daily Telegraph’s Review section previewed Wednesday’s edition of Channel 4’s Dispatches – Britain’s Forgotten Pensioners it expressed scepticism at some of the statistics in the forthcoming programme:
Some of the figures quoted (such as that 45 people died every day last winter – more than 4,000 deaths – as a result of being unable to heat their homes) seemed inconceivable enough to invite referral to Radio 4’s More or Less for further analysis.
This extraordinary and troubling figure of 4,000 deaths comes from a study by National Energy Action. Three days before the above quote hit readers’ doormats, Bob Ward, Chair of London Climate Change Partnership, told Dr. David Bull on his TalkTV show that the temperature “astonishingly went above 40 degrees last summer and it killed 2,000 people”.
There is no readily available statistical basis for them but if one were to take these two figures at face value, then an admittedly over-simplistic conclusion might be that winter cold kills twice as many people as summer heat. While it appears that Western civilisation is being put into reverse gear to prevent global temperature rises, what is being done about the former?
The Telegraph’s incredulity at the concept of people dying of cold is comparatively recent. In February 2015, it reported: ‘Winter death toll “to exceed 40,000”‘. Dame Sally Davies, then the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, wrote in the Cold Weather Plan for England 2014-15:
Excess deaths are not just deaths of those who would have died anyway in the next few weeks or months due to illness or old age. There is strong evidence some of these deaths are indeed ‘extra’ and are related to cold temperatures, living in cold homes as well as infectious diseases such as influenza.
If one looks for this year’s Cold Weather Plan, it turns out than in a suitably Orwellian touch it is now called the Adverse Weather Plan. There is as now as much content devoted to “extreme heat and heatwaves” as to cold.
Deaths from cold among the elderly used to grab people’s attention. The late MP David Amess was so appalled to hear of the death in a cold house of one of his Southend constituents that he campaigned for and secured the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act in 2000. Fuel poverty declined from 5.1 million households to 1.2 million households between 1996 and 2004, partly as a consequence. As to where it is in 2023, the estimate from National Energy Action is 7.5 million households.
The fact is that Government and media have succumbed to a bad case of climate emergency tunnel vision, which means their limited attention is focused on ‘soaring’ temperatures, heatwaves and the weather map being coloured red after the news. Of course, there is an impact from the war in Ukraine but elderly people will die again this coming winter not just because of the chronic failure to secure the U.K.’s energy supply by successive Governments. It is also caused by the vast transfer of wealth from struggling pensioners to asset owners in the renewable sector. Energy bills are unnecessarily high in no small part due to the innumerable subsidies that go to, among others, wind turbine providers being awarded constraint payments for switching them off in high winds.
The Dispatches documentary makes for hard viewing and I defy anyone not to be touched by the despair of those featured. A few days before watching it, I was at a dinner where I saw a former colleague. Heir to a considerable fortune, he cheerfully told me that he’d received a five-figure grant towards the cost of installing a heat pump in the pond beside his equally considerable North London home.
Ian Price is a Business Psychologist. Find him on Twitter.