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Black balloons hit the skies to mark rise in winter deaths

DOZENS of black balloons will be released tomorrow to commemorate thousands of elderly people who have been killed by harsh winters amid the estimated “highest death toll in 15 years.”

At least 18,200 elderly people died between December 2013 and March 2014 — but campaigners predict the number has more than doubled this year while gas and electricity rates have soared.

The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) will release one balloon per 1,000 deaths soon after the Office of National Statistics (ONS) releases its provisional figures of “excess winter deaths” caused by poorly insulated damp homes and Big Six energy privateers’ high charges.

Campaign group Fuel Poverty Action predicts that the number of cold-related deaths would be at least 40,000. It would be the “highest death toll” since the turn of the millennium, it added.

NPC general secretary Dot Gibson accused successive governments of ignoring the thousands of tragic but preventable deaths by “crossing their fingers and hoping things will improve.”

“The key is to make sure older people have got a well-insulated, warm home and the income needed to pay the fuel bills.

“This is a basic requirement of what a decent society should do,” she said.

The government “doesn’t care one jot for the fuel poor” because otherwise it would “seriously invest” in insulation and permanently rein in the Big Six, said Laura Hill of Fuel Poverty Action.

Disabled people are also at further risk of cold-related health problems since the Tory government has slashed more benefits for those unable to work.

This puts them in an “unacceptable” position in having to “choose between heating and eating,” said Disabled People Against Cuts campaigner Linda Burnip.

Cold weather in Britain claims more lives than in Sweden, where winter temperatures regularly plunge to a bone-rattling -30°C, or even as low as -53°C, the NPC said.

Ms Gibson said: “How can colder Scandinavian countries avoid this annual toll while we simply wring our hands?

“The government needs to roll out a more effective programme to insulate homes, build more suitable properties for older people, raise the winter fuel allowance and tackle the excessive profits of the Big Six energy companies.”

  • NPC members will release the balloons at Old Palace Yard in Westminster, Old Fire Station in Southampton, Monkwick School in Colchester, Civic Offices in Milton Keynes, Millennium Point in Birmingham and Cathedral Green in Exeter.

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