Energy Blackouts Could Lead to Increase in Serious Falls, Warns Ageing Charity

National energy blackouts this winter would put more than 1.6 million people at heightened risk of a serious injury in their own home because of the poor quality of their property, analysis from Centre for Ageing Better reveals.

Should the country suffer an energy supply shortage this winter, the government has reportedly prepared crisis plans for a series of rolling three-hour power cuts, with regions of the UK taking it in turn to go dark in the late afternoon and early evening.

Such drastic measures would pose a particular risk for the occupants of the more than 1.6m non-decent homes in the UK with a category 1 falls hazard – around one in 14 of the nation’s entire housing stock.

This risk rises in the 660,000 non-decent homes with a category 1 falls hazard that are headed by someone aged 55 and over.

Falls in the home cost the NHS £374m every year to treat along with additional and substantial social care and other associated costs. For individuals, they can be life-changing. It can mean a lengthy stay in hospital, reduced mobility and independence and, in some cases, the start of a need for carers to help with everyday activities like getting dressed.

At the heart of this issue is the fact that too little resource has been committed to ensuring that homes remain safe and warm for the duration of the building’s life. The Centre for Ageing Better is calling for:

  • A national retrofit programme to reduce the amount of energy lost through inefficient homes
  • An independent, one-stop-shop in every community offering trusted advice and support to help people make their homes warmer and safer
  • Minimum accessibility standards for all new build homes which will help reduce the risks of falls

Over the next 25 years, the number of households with someone aged over 85 will almost double. Ageing Better is calling for greater resources to be made available to ensure that homes remain suitable and adaptable for the needs of people as they age.

The increased risk of falls within the home are just one of serious concerns, particularly for older people, that the prospect of an energy crisis winter poses.

The Centre for Ageing Better continues to raise the alarm about energy costs with many older people in homes with poor energy efficiency set to pay well in excess of the government estimates of a typical household’s annual bill of £2,500 under the Energy Price Guarantee.

Older people are already cutting back on energy use more than any other age group despite the health risks this may pose.

Cold weather can be deadly but especially so in the UK where around 10,000 people die in cold homes every year. The UK has a high excess winter mortality, far greater than in much colder European countries such as Norway. It is estimated that one in ten excess winter deaths are directly attributable to fuel poverty and more than one in five to cold homes.

Ageing Better also has concerns around what support has been considered for older people who have a specific dependence on electrical devices, such as medical equipment, personal alarms, and telephone landlines, for their health and security.

Holly Holder, Deputy Director for Homes at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “The extreme nature of the solutions being used this winter, energy price caps, warm banks and now potentially energy blackouts, just goes to show the extreme nature of the cost-of-living and energy crisis we are facing.

“The fact that so many people’s homes in this country pose a very real threat to their health highlights the poor quality of housing stock. Poor housing can cause or worsen health conditions, reduce a person’s quality of life, and can even result in premature death. Low-income homeowners, particularly those with health conditions, need much greater support at a national and local level to help them to bring their homes up to basic standards of decency.

“We are calling for the rollout of a national retrofit programme to make homes warmer, safer and more energy efficient. This should be supported by a network of ‘Good Home Agencies’ – one-stop-shops in communities that provide local advice, access to finance and practical support – the lack of which research shows is a barrier to people making improvements to their homes.”