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Record low for cold-related deaths

The number of people killed by cold weather last winter was the lowest since records began, official statistics show.

Warmer-than-average weather led to a 40% fall in the number of cold-related deaths in England and Wales in winter 2013/14, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Some 18,200 "excess winter deaths" were provisionally recorded in the 2013/14 winter, the lowest since they began being collected in 1950/51.

It was also down 42% from the 31,280 killed by cold in the 2012/13 winter.

An ONS spokesman said: "Winter 2013/14 was characterised by a slightly colder-than-average temperature in November followed by a sustained period of milder-than-average weather. Temperatures in December and January remained over two degrees higher than the five-year average. "

The most at-risk groups were the over 75s, who accounted for 14,000 of the deaths last winter. Women were more likely to die than men and those in the West Midlands were at most risk, and those in the North East the least likely, the ONS said.

The number of people dying from influenza last winter was also the lowest for the season for several years, it added.

The 2013/14 winter was the wettest since records began 250 years ago and the fifth warmest since 1910, the Met Office said in March.

Charities claimed the drop was a blip and urged people not to be complacent about warming their homes.

Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said: "The sad fact is that many of these deaths could have been prevented.

"Cold homes, caused by a number of factors including poor insulation and high energy costs, are a major cause of excess winter deaths.

"In the short term we would urge all older people to claim the benefits they're entitled to so they can afford to turn the heating up and stay warm.

"However the only long-term solution to this problem is an ambitious government-led programme to bring all our housing up to a high energy efficiency standard.

Simon Bottery, director of policy at Independent Age, said: "While 18,000 excess winter deaths is lower than last year, it is still unacceptable, particularly as it was a mild winter.

"We are especially concerned that more than three-quarters of the deaths were among the over-75s.

"The Government should consider whether there is specific advice and support that should be given to this particularly vulnerable group."

Friends of the Earth's Sophie Neuburg said: "The reduction in excess winter deaths is a short-term blip caused by last year's unusually mild winter. It can't cover up the fact that the Government's energy efficiency policy is failing, leaving millions of vulnerable people shivering."

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: "We're spending £2.15 billion this winter to help Britain's pensioners pay for their bills through winter fuel payments, along with an additional £310 million on the warm home discount for those at risk of fuel poverty.

"But we know the way to help people - permanently - is to make their homes warmer and cheaper to heat. That's why we've introduced an ambitious strategy, the first in a decade, to get the UK's housing stock up to scratch. Over 750,000 homes have already been helped through schemes like the Energy Company Obligation, and it's set to improve 600,000 more up to 2017. This is all on top of an investment of over half a billion pounds in energy efficiency over three years, such as £88 million targeting fuel-poor homes via Green Deal communities."

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