Fuel poverty

The human cost of cold homes

Millions of people in the UK are right now living in fuel poverty.

Living in a cold home can be very damaging to physical and mental health. Older people are at particular risk of health problems as a result of living in fuel poverty. But children and people with disabilities or illnesses are also vulnerable.


Health

Respiratory diseases such as asthma are made worse through living in a cold home, and people are more likely to have strokes and heart attacks. People with long-term health conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease are also at risk.

The NHS advises one of the best ways of keeping yourself well during winter is to stay warm when at home. Age UK estimates that illnesses caused by cold homes cost the NHS £1.3 billion a year.

Winter Deaths

More people die in winter than the rest of the year due to the effects of the cold. All European countries see a greater number of deaths in the winter than in the summer, but in the UK the difference is much greater than countries with a much colder climate such as Norway and Sweden. The difference is that in many colder countries homes are much easier to keep warm.

The additional deaths in this period are called Excess Winter Deaths, and over the last five years there have been on average 26,000 Excess Winter Deaths in the UK. During the winter of 2012/13 there were over 30,000 winter deaths in the UK.

Not all excess winter deaths can be attributed to cold housing or low indoor temperatures. However, according to the World Health Organisation, between 30% and 50% of Excess Winter Deaths can be attributable to cold indoor temperatures. This means on average at least 65 people a day die in the UK in Winter as a result of illnesses due to cold homes.

This means on average over the last five years at least 7800 people have died every year due to living in cold homes – four times more than the number of people who died on British roads in 2011.

Children

We estimate that at the start of 2014 there are 2.23 million children England living in fuel poverty. The impact on children’s health is clear:

  • They are more than twice as likely to suffer from a variety of respiratory problems, such as asthma and bronchitis, as children living in warm homes.
  • More than one in four adolescents living in cold housing are at risk of multiple mental health problems (the figure is one in 20 for those who have always lived in warm housing).
  • Cold housing also negatively affects how children perform at school and their emotional well-being.
  • In the face of great financial hardship, many families are having to cut back on other essentials to pay their fuel bills or make choices between keeping the house warm and buying food. A survey by Save the Children found almost half of the parents from the lowest income families have said they are considering cutting back on food in order to pay their energy bills.And a Netmums survey found 1 in 4 families have had to choose between heating and eating!

Disability

There are a number of reasons why people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to fuel poverty:

Many health conditions are aggravated by the cold, and often people with disabilities are unable to keep active during the winter months.

People with disabilities are much more likely to be unemployed than able-bodied people and are therefore likely to spend more time at home.

People with disabilities have on average a 25% higher cost of living due to additional needs such as mobility, aids and care. For many, moving to a more energy efficient home is not an option as it will need to be adapted for their needs.

Fuel poverty can worsen people’s health conditions, which in turn impacts on demand for health and social care services. It is also likely to lengthen recovery times of people with certain conditions and make existing problems worse. There are the mental health effects of living in a cold home too, from stress and anxiety through to more severe mental health issues.

The Solution

The only permanent solution is to make all UK homes much more energy efficient – making them so easy and cheap to heat they effectively become fuel poverty proof. But to make this happen the Government must give much more financial support to energy efficiency programmes.

The Energy Bill Revolution is calling on the Government to use the money it gets from carbon taxes to make our homes super-energy efficient. It is the permanent solution to get families and vulnerable citizens out of fuel poverty – improving health, well-being and even children’s educational attainment.

MPs supporting the campaign
The only permanent solution to drive down energy bills and end fuel poverty.