Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives

It may be measured in baby steps, but at last the Department of Health (DH) is acknowledging the importance of cold homes, and living in fuel poverty, to the health debate.

Age UK’s lobbying and campaigning on fuel poverty issues is strongly grounded on the health implications – the ill-health arising from not keeping adequately warm, measured both in terms of human suffering and costs to the NHS – so this engagement by the DH is a significant advance.  Two short reports from Age UK have looked at recent public health initiatives to assess their impact.

aOne is concerned with the Warm Homes Healthy People programme.  This was announced as a ‘one-off’ in 2011, then repeated in 2012.

It was a £20m prize pot to which local authorities were invited to bid, provided their proposals were to address ‘winter pressures’, and provided they were doing so in partnership with the local voluntary and community groups.

It stimulated a remarkable range of varied activities, from clearing snow and going shopping in adverse weather, to providing hot meals and issuing ‘winter survival packs’, to checking electric blankets and checking benefit entitlements.

It drove a wave of local, community activity, and local Age UK partners were substantially involved. This report looks at their experience of the project, and it is overwhelmingly supportive. Continue reading “Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives”

Will there be Warm Homes, Healthy People this winter?

It’s the last day of August, and frankly I’m clinging to the hope that this pretty miserable summer will give us at least a few warm days this September before it’s done. So I really don’t want to be thinking about the cold dark days of winter which may be just a couple of months away.

But actually my working days at the moment are spent thinking about nothing else. For many older people, the onset of winter is not a good time, especially if your home is cold and poorly insulated or you cannot afford ever increasing fuel bills.

Over the last ten years, there have been around 26,700 additional deaths each winter, when compared to the other months of the year (ONS). The vast majority of these ‘excess winter deaths’ – more than ninety per cent – are among older people. There is also an associated increase in GP visits, hospital admissions and social care calls due to cold weather. This useful website gives a picture of the situation across England.

This ‘phenomenon’ (as the scientists call it – I prefer the term ‘disgrace’) has been well studied. We know, for example, that the primary risk factor is exposure to cold. And we know that 40 per cent of deaths are due to cardiovascular problems – heart attacks and strokes – and another 30 per cent to respiratory issues. Hypothermia is relatively rare, and influenza is generally only a significant factor when there is an epidemic. Continue reading “Will there be Warm Homes, Healthy People this winter?”