Comment Writer Holly Pittaway discusses how recent cold weather has made some people vulnerable, and what the government can do to prevent this

Images by John Brightley

Last week the United Kingdom experienced one of the coldest bouts of winter weather since December 2010; over the period of just a few days the country was savaged by snowfall, bitten by freezing temperatures of as low as minus 8.9 degrees Celsius (recorded in Hampshire), and daily life was momentarily disrupted. Many students felt the brunt of the beast from the east after lectures were cancelled, appointments were re-scheduled, and transport services were delayed. But while most of us were huddled up in the warmth of our student accommodation, many people throughout the UK were not so fortunate.

One such person affected by the cold weather was my 82 year-old Grandmother. While temperatures plummeted, instead of staying warm inside her bungalow, she was forced to temporarily move into my parent’s house after her boiler broke and she became unable to heat her home. Luckily for my Nan, it was easy for her to find alternative accommodation to live in while she waited for her boiler to be fixed (a project that took the best part of a week), and thankfully now, she can go home feeling sure that an issue like this will not put her in any danger. However, cases like these are not always resolved with such ease.

In a recent article from The Independent, journalist, Ben Chapman, revealed that at least 3,000 Brits were dying every year because they were unable to heat their homes, a death toll number similar to that of victims of prostate and breast cancer.

Further research found that over the last five years the total number of excess winter deaths has amounted to 168,000, with over 10% of these deaths estimated as a direct result of fuel poverty.

Not only is this fuel crisis directly affecting those of us who are not able to heat our own homes, it is also having an indirect impact on the NHS, which is being strained even further due to the high influx of people seeking care for health complaints caused by the cold.

While the cold may seem fairly harmless, these freezing temperatures can cause a range of issues, such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Furthermore, young children are often even more severely affected, with infants living in cold homes having a 30% greater risk of developing symptoms like coughing and wheezing. The cold crisis is certainly serious and on the rise.

The only way to prevent this issue from worsening is to encourage increased government investment in the home energy sector, as until then, the many of us who can’t afford to turn the heating past 15 degrees Celsius or fix our broken boilers could be at risk of becoming just another statistic in this fuel crisis.