Protesters against cold-related deaths carry coffin to Downing Street

People who died from cold-related illnesses were honoured by protesters who carried a mock coffin to Downing Street in icy conditions on Thursday.

Protesters held a minute’s silence before carrying the coffin bearing the number of excess deaths to the gates outside Number 10 in Westminster.

The campaigners delivered a letter calling for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to take immediate action to end deaths from cold-related illnesses.

Cold-related illness deaths protest
Protesters with a mock coffin as they campaign against people dying of cold and deliver a petition letter to 10 Downing Street (Beresford Hodge/PA)

The National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC), Fuel Poverty Action, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and Disabled People Against Cuts were among campaigning organisation involved with the vigil.

It comes as ONS published data on Thursday revealing an estimated 13,400 more deaths occurred in the winter period of December 2021 to March 2022 compared with the average of the non-winter periods.

The new figures are the second lowest for decades but the fuel poverty charity National Energy Action has warned they “only cover last winter, when energy bills were half the amount that they are now”.

Last year 4.5 million UK households were fuel poor but this has risen to 6.7 million, it said.

In a statement, its chief executive Adam Scorer said: “Next year, these statistics will expose the full impact of today’s energy crisis.

“The toxic combination of extraordinary heating costs, stagnant or falling incomes, and our notoriously poor, unhealthy housing stock will take a heavier toll with lives blighted by debt, ill health, and worse.

“This winter we need the Government to give more support and stop millions falling through the cracks with the most awful consequences.”

Standing outside the gates to Downing Street, Fuel Poverty Action co-founder Ruth London told the PA news agency: “Nobody should be dying because they haven’t got enough money to keep their heating on and in many cases keep the lights on.

“The stories we’ve been hearing are absolutely heart-rending, people who are wearing Covid masks at home because the air at home is too cold, too sharp on the back of the throat.

“People who are sleeping with every single bit of clothing and blankets on top of them and still shivering in their own beds, people who are spending the day in bed.”

NPC general secretary Jan Shortt said: “Rocketing cost-of-living, rampant energy prices, and the disastrous crisis in the NHS and social care will see tens of thousands more die if no action is taken.”

WEATHER Snow
PA Graphics

This year’s vigil comes amid a backdrop of soaring energy prices and a cost-of-living crisis, and as temperatures plunged below minus 10C (14F) in parts of the UK overnight.

Drumnadrochit near Inverness in the Highlands hit minus 10.4C (13.28F) in the early hours of Thursday, making it the coldest recorded temperature of the year so far.

A level three cold weather alert issued by the UK Health Security Agency, warning of conditions that “could increase the health risks to vulnerable patients and disrupt the delivery of services” is in place until 9am on Friday.