Cold Homes

Public Health Well-being

For years fuel poverty campaigners have been calling on politicians to recognise the affects of cold and damp homes on the health of our most vulnerable households.

As early as 2011, a report from the World Health Organisation proved that on average nearly 8,000 people die in the UK every year due to living in cold homes – three to four times the number of people who die on British roads and far worse than really cold countries like Germany and Sweden.

And with the UK just one place from bottom of the European rankings for housing quality – only Estonia has a worse record – children, the disabled and older people all continue to suffer terribly every winter because of the poor levels of comfort in our homes.

Today the UK’s most recognised health advisory body, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), has given campaigners fresh hope by issuing its first national guideline on ‘Excess winter deaths and morbidity and the health risks associated with cold homes’.

After a two year review of the available evidence NICE has found that cold homes can worsen people’s health conditions and lengthen recovery times, which in turn impacts on demand for health and social care services. They also observed that 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.

And it is not just older people who are feeling the health impacts of fuel poverty. NICE has received data to show that children whose families live in badly insulated homes are more than twice as likely to suffer from asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases and five times more at risk of multiple mental health problems.

The guidance issued by NICE presents a major solution. It suggests that all of the hundred and thirty eight Health & Wellbeing Boards (HWB) across the UK bring together budgets from public health, primary care, social care, housing and social services to establish a one stop shop for health and housing services in their area. This would provide a trusted resource for referral by frontline professionals across these sectors to energy efficiency programmes, for example free boiler upgrades and insulation.

A number of Labour local authorities, including the London Borough of Islington, and their partners are already in the process of successfully implementing such programmes. This week a coalition of charities will be contacting all local authorities imploring them to take action in response to the publication of the NICE guidelines. In the first week of May the coalition will highlight the worst performing areas by publishing a league table that reflects progress by HWBs in implementing these guidelines.

The Department of Health and Age UK estimate that cold homes in the UK cause the equivalent of seven unplanned hospital admissions a year, with an annual price tag of £1.3 billion to the NHS. With an estimated 2.23 million children in England living in fuel poverty and a recent Netmums survey showing that 1 in 4 families are choosing between heating and eating this is a critical issue as Labour looks to hammer home its messages about the NHS on the doorstep.

The Labour energy team is promising to fix this by levying a tax on energy companies to secure the upgrade of 500,000 homes ea year. But tens of thousands of households need help now and Labour candidates must show that they can make a difference locally by petitioning their Health & Wellbeing Boards to put in place emergency plans to address this issue immediately.

First published on Labour List