Britain's biggest older people's organisation, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), has called on the government to take immediate action to tackle the rising number of winter deaths amongst the country's elderly.

The call follows the publication of the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show a 7 per cent increase in the excess winter death rate between December 2007 and March 2008 in England and Wales, compared with the same period the year before.

The figures show 25,300 more individuals died during the winter months than at other times of the year, up from 23,740 in the previous period. The vast majority of these, 23,200, were aged over 65.

Joe Harris, NPC general secretary said: "Since 1997, we have lost over 260,000 pensioners during the winter months because of cold related illnesses, yet the government seems incapable of acting. No other section of our society is so vulnerable and treated so badly. Pensioners see rising fuel bills and are constantly worried about whether or not they can afford to put their heating on."

"Around 2.4m pensioner households are currently spending more than 10% of their income on fuel bills, and are living in fuel poverty. What these people need now is more money - in the form of the winter fuel allowance so that they can avoid having to decide whether to heat or eat. Energy efficiency schemes won't help them pay their bills this month and neither will they prevent tens of thousands pensioners dying from the cold this winter."

"All older people need to be reassured that they will not be financially punished for keeping warm in winter. The government must give them confidence that they will be able to pay their bills by raising the winter fuel allowance to at least £500 for every household, introducing an industry-wide reduced social tariff for older customers and forcing the energy companies to pass on reductions in prices."

Fuel Poverty Facts

- Nearly 90 per cent of all excess winter deaths are of people over the age of 65.

- Almost one in three older people live in homes with inadequate heating or insulation making their homes more difficult to heat and/or keep warm.

- More than 1 in 4 people living in fuel poverty are over 70 years old

- Average annual energy bills now exceed £1,000. This will absorb 16 per cent of the income of a single pensioner dependent on the pension credit minimum guarantee and the current £250 Winter Fuel Payment.

National Pensioners Convention

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