This Saturday (3 December 2022), the Warm This Winter coalition has convened a Day of Action on fuel poverty. Groups and communities across the country have come together to deliver events and actions. These events and actions will show there are solutions to tackle the energy crisis and they need to be implemented now.
What is fuel poverty?
Fuel poverty is when people cannot heat their homes to a reasonable temperature due to cost unaffordability. Around 7 million households were in fuel poverty in the UK in October 2020, and the number could increase by nearly an extra two million from April 2023 due to energy price crises (About fuel poverty,2022). Vulnerable people are more likely to experience fuel poverty, including low-income households, young children, older people, and people with pre-existing health issues are more susceptible (Alice et al., 2022).
How does fuel poverty affect health?
Healthcare professionals warn that the NHS and social services will face crises due to expectations of an increase in hospital admissions and demand for GP surgeries if households are not protected from unaffordable spikes in energy prices (Lowe & Mahmood, 2022).
Cold housing is directly linked to various adverse health outcomes, such as respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and mental health issues. (Balfour et al.,2014). Moreover, over 21% of excess winter mortality is attributable to living in a cold home (Alice et al., 2022). Evidence shows that extremely low temperatures decrease the ability to fight to resist respiratory infections and increase the circulation of respiratory viruses in children that can cause respiratory tract infections, such as bronchiolitis (NICE ,2016)
Fuel poverty has been linked to an increased risk of dampness in homes and poor indoor air quality. Poorly fitted or single-measure retrofitting can also exacerbate dampness due to loss of ventilation—which results in developing asthma and acute asthma attacks (Whitehead et al,2022). English longitudinal study showed respiratory diseases were twice higher among children living in cold, damp houses than others (Liddell & Morris,2010). Living in cold temperatures increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks for older people, and respiratory diseases, including flu, are more common than falls, injuries, and hypothermia (Liddell & Morris,2010).
Studies found that when the temperature decreases below 12°C, it affects the blood circulatory resulting in increased blood pressure and narrowing of the blood vessels, which leads to an increase of thick blood (blood viscosity) that flows more slowly through your circulatory system both increases in blood pressure and blood viscosity raise the risk of strokes and heart attacks (Alice et al., 2022).
However, fuel poverty indirectly affects health; households on lower incomes may find they have to choose between heating their homes or eating; deciding whether to heat or eat results in poor nutrition, which reduces their immune system against diseases (Grey et al.,2017)
Moreover, money worries can lead to more social isolation and increase mental health among family members. It also increases family stress and the risk of child abuse and neglect.
What can the government do to help tackle the energy crisis?
The good news is that there are solutions! The government must:
1) Provide urgent additional financial support to keep people warm.
2) An emergency programme of insulation and energy saving measures.
3) Transform the failed energy system to one that works for people and the planet, not profit. Birmingham and the UK has to get off dependency on gas, oil, coal and make use of the endless renewable energy sources all around us.
Written by Doaa, BFoE placement student.