Disturbing figures show 60 people died of cold in the Harrogate district last winter - a statistic branded “shameful” by charity Age UK.
These latest figures, released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), show more people died needlessly in Harrogate last winter than in Darlington, Hambleton and Scarborough combined.
The cause has been put down to cold homes, rising energy prices, rural isolation and a growing elderly population.
Many residents, say local charities, are asking themselves if they can afford to “eat or heat”.
But without extra pots of funding to help those most in need, dozens of people are succumbing “needlessly” to winter illnesses that are robbing them of their lives.
“Excess winter deaths are preventable and the figures are a damning indictment of our failure to address the scandal of cold homes in this country,” said Age UK director, Caroline Abrahams.
“We strongly believe that the only sustainable solution is investment to increase the energy efficiency of our housing stock so cold homes become a thing of the past.” The Excess Winter Deaths (EWD) investigation shows the number of deaths in winter months above the annual average.
Nationally, estimates suggest a 29 per cent rise year on year with 31,100 extra deaths last winter in England and Wales.
Women and the elderly were hardest hit, with a 25 per cent rise in the number of deaths in Yorkshire alone.
And the figures for Harrogate, showing 60 excess deaths, are higher than any other comparable town in North Yorkshire.
Scarborough and Hambleton had just 10 each, Darlington, 30, and the whole of Richmondshire 30. There were 80 excess deaths in York, a city with a population nearly three times that of Harrogate.
Alex Bird, chief executive officer for Age UK North Yorkshire, says Harrogate has a unique problem in that its elderly population is soaring.
“There’s a higher percentage of older people in the Harrogate area - 26 per cent of the population,” she said.
“Last winter was extremely long, that may have had an impact on people’s health particularly with circulatory and respiratory diseases.
“But the biggest problem is cold homes - that can have a huge impact on people’s wellbeing.”
Many people in the area may be asset rich, she said, but they are cash poor and struggling to pay their heating bills.
“Certainly those that live in cold homes are three times more likely to die and, in Harrogate, many people live in big homes they can’t afford to heat,” she said.
“The cost of energy may well limit the amount of time people have their heating on.
“A lot of older people are asking the question ‘do I eat or do I heat?’.”
Most Yorkshire deaths were put down to respiratory or circulatory disease. But the number of excess deaths put down to dementia and Alzheimer’s is rising dramatically.
And the geography of the district has a large part to play, says Mrs Bird, with many people spread out over a large rural area.
“We are very isolated in parts of this county,” she said. “Being alone can affect people’s health and wellbeing.”
Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign aims to raise awareness, of how people can get access to funds and grants, information or even a hot Christmas dinner.
But with warnings of a long and cold winter ahead, charities are warning that more needs to be done to combat this issue.
“We can all play a part in helping older neighbours, friends or family,” said Mrs Bird. “Popping in to make sure they’ve got a hot drink, that they can get to the shops.
“These statistics are shameful. But we must remember, these are real people.”
For advice and information through the Age UK Winter Warmth campaign, call 01423 502253.
Excess Winter Deaths
Age in Yorkshire
0 - 64 4,774
65 - 74 4,828
75 - 84 7,617
85 + 6, 647
Most deaths were in January (2,236) December (2,230), February (2,143) March (2,029)
Underlying cause of death
Circulatory disease 7,170
Respiratory Disease 8,100
Dementia and Alzheimer’s 3,750
Injury and poisoning 790
Rising deaths as result of dementia and Alzheimers disease