Funding for fire and rescue services needs to address greater risks posed by the rising ageing population, with a 22 per cent increase in the last two years in the number of fire-related deaths involving those aged over 65, the Local Government Association urged.
Generally, the risk of fire-related fatality increases with age, with those aged 80 and over at greatest risk of dying in a fire. An increase in the number of people living in rented accommodation is also linked to an increase in the number of residential fires.
With the over-85 population set to more than double by 2039 and the number of people renting privately forecast to rise, the LGA, which represents more than 370 councils and fire authorities in England and Wales, says socio-demographic risk factors linked to fires should be considered in government’s funding of fire services.
The LGA is also highlighting latest fire statistics which show that although the overall number of fires has fallen steadily, the rate of decline has slowed and certain types of fire have increased. This includes deliberate primary fires – those that involve casualties or rescues – which have risen by 14 per cent to 22,032 in 2016/17 (up from 19,369 in 2015/16).
Government figures show that funding for fire services, within revenue support grant, has fallen by 38.5 per cent, from £524 million to £322 million, between 2015/16 and 2019/20.
In its Autumn Budget submission, the LGA is urging government not to make any further reductions to fire service funding and to ensure funding levels reflect that fire services are driven by risk, not demand, and need the capability to respond to major incidents.
With increases in the ageing population and rented accommodation linked to greater residential fire risk, the LGA is calling for the funding of fire services to take account of these risk factors and related fire prevention work.
Cllr Ian Stephens, Chair of the LGA’s Fire Services Management Committee, said:
“The fact that people are living longer is to be celebrated but this presents a clear and additional risk to fire and rescue services which have had their funding cut by around 40 per cent over a four-year period.
“Projected rises in both the elderly population, including those living alone, and the number of people living in privately rented homes will only increase the risk of more fires putting people’s lives in danger.
“Despite an overall fall in fires following successful fire prevention work, certain types of fire, such as deliberate primary fires, are on the rise, which is concerning.
“These trends present a growing risk factor and cannot be ignored. We are urging the Chancellor not to make any further reductions to fire service funding in the Autumn Budget to ensure resources and capability are not jeopardised.
“The fire service needs to be funded to risk, not demand, to ensure it can respond to unanticipated local and national events, such as the Grenfell Tower disaster.
“After cutting the number of fires by half in the last decade, fire services are saving lives and delivering better services for local people, through cost-effective initiatives such as pioneering prevention work, targeted safe and well visits, and collaboration with other blue light services and partners, to help communities, including the most vulnerable. Reduced funding could undermine these achievements and put lives at risk.
“Firefighters are well-placed to understand the needs and risks in their communities. Funding which accounts for specific socio-demographic fire risk factors, such as the rising ageing population and increase in private renters, would enable fire and rescue services to continue to target their community fire safety work more effectively, and therefore reduce fire casualties.”