Cold homes claiming needless lives and costing every local Health and Wellbeing Board in England over £27,000 each day

Embargo: 00:01, 26 February 2016

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Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) is today [26 February] warning that health services could continue to waste well over a billion pounds a year on treating preventable cold-related illness. The charity estimates that every local Health and Wellbeing Board in England is spending, on average, over £27,000 each day, or £10million per year on treating patients with health conditions caused or worsened by living in cold, damp housing. Nationally, cold homes cost health services £3.6 million per day, and in the past four years alone over £5 billion of tax payers’ money has been wasted whilst 117,000 people have died needlessly due to the cold.

Jenny Saunders, Chief Executive of NEA, commented: “Cold homes are a public health emergency and are dramatically reducing life chances for vulnerable people.

As well as it being completely unacceptable that in the 21 century people are still becoming ill and dying needlessly because they live in cold homes, treating health-related conditions is also placing a shocking strain on the public purse.

Sweden and Norway can manage to avoid these costs and prevent thousands of extra people being admitted to hospital each winter because their residents live in housing which is efficient to heat, despite colder temperatures and higher energy prices. Given we know the causes and the best cure; we can’t just shrug our shoulders and accept cold-related illness and death as inevitable. It isn’t.”

It is now almost a year since the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued welcomed guidance on how to reduce excess winter deaths and illness. However winter deaths soared last year and continue to exceed non-winter deaths by 27%. NEA believes that despite the cost and suffering caused by cold homes only half of all Health and Wellbeing Boards have even referenced action to address fuel poverty in their Joint Strategic Needs Assessments. As a result, the charity is calling on all Health and Wellbeing Boards to adopt the NICE recommendations urgently and give cold homes the same attention as other significant public health concerns.

Jenny Saunders added: “NEA is also undertaking research to establish how many Health and Wellbeing Boards have adopted related indicators and the clear recommendations of the NICE guidance. We will publish the results and hope to see a dramatic increase in addressing cold homes as a local strategic priority. But as well as more local action, it is clear we also need the Government to significantly increase investment in national programmes to help vulnerable and sick individuals improve insulation or fix their heating. Refocusing current resources on low-income households will help but ultimately existing national programmes remain woefully inadequate to fulfil Government targets’’.

This warning coincides with NEA’s Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, which is supported by organisations across the UK. As part of the day, the charity is urging households to seek the help that is available by calling the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99.

ENDS

Campaign Infographic (can be used subject to permission by NEA)

campaign infographic

NOTES TO EDITORS 

1) NEA is a leading fuel poverty charity campaigning for affordable warmth in the homes of vulnerable people and to address exclusion in the energy market. For further details visit www.nea.org.uk. Fuel Poverty Awareness Day is part of NEA’s Warm Homes Campaign and takes place on 26 February 2016. Support for Fuel Poverty Awareness Day can be found on Twitter @NEA_UKCharity and #fuelpovertyawarenessday.

2) The health impacts caused by cold homes predominantly relate to exacerbating cardiovascular stress. Low temperatures also diminish resistance to infection and encourage damp and mould growth in the home which causes respiratory problems. Cold indoor conditions have also been linked to poor mental health resulting from anxiety and stress. Social isolation can be exacerbated where the home does not present a welcoming environment and there is evidence that cold homes can reduce educational attainment. Beyond the direct individual impacts, needless ill health as a result of cold homes puts a huge strain on already stretched public resources and services. This means each winter local health services struggle to cope with cold-related hospital admissions and repeat GP visits. Many organisations are also having to increase debt and income advice provision and are currently expanding services such as food banks, crisis energy payments or debt write off programmes. In addition, the large amount owed by many householders to their energy providers curtails economic activity within poorer communities. Advice and support and practical heating and insulation improvements can help address all of these problems.

3) For many years, NEA’s subsidiary Warm Zones, has delivered a range of area-based energy efficiency schemes. This includes measures installed via funding from npower’s Health Through Warmth project in Newcastle and Gateshead, which provides funding towards the cost of central heating and/or insulation if the homeowner has a long-term, cold-related illness, has a low income, has little or no savings and is unable to personally fully fund measures. The most common conditions for the householders helped are respiratory disease (e.g. COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, severe asthma), cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart disease and stroke), diabetes (particularly type 1), arthritis (osteo and rheumatoid, requiring regular treatment and review), cancer, terminal illness or mental illness (depression and receiving treatment, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder). Depending on an individual’s circumstances, funding to help pay for measures is sought from a range of sources, including grant schemes, charitable organisations and the Health Through Warmth Crisis Fund as applicable. More info on where the zones are can be found at: www.warmzones.co.uk/the-zones Case studies from recent NEA-Warm Zones project delivery:

4) Mr and Mrs Seery

Mr Seery is a carer for his disabled wife but also has his own health problems including heart and breathing problems. He was referred to Warm Zones by Age UK. After ongoing assistance and support from the Warm Zones Benefits Advisor, Mr Seery was awarded higher rate Attendance Allowance which then entitled him to an increase in his Pension Credits.  Warm Zones also helped him apply for a Blue Badge for parking.  The total gain secured for the couple was £13,147 p.a. plus a one-off arrears payment of £3,140.  Warm Zones also installed a new gas boiler, using ECO funding and local Warm Zone gap funding.  Now the Seerys can enjoy a warmer, healthier home and be free of the financial worries previously associated with paying their fuel bills.

5) Mrs Binney

Mrs Binney, a pensioner, suffers from arthritis, an underactive thyroid and high blood pressure.  She was getting by on a low income and with an old, very inefficient and unreliable heating system. As such she really feels the cold and was struggling to keep her house warm enough. Warm Zones supported Mrs Binney through the process of claiming Council Tax Benefit, Pension Credit & Attendance Allowance (higher rate), resulting in an annual gain of £7,178 and an arrears payment of £734. Mrs Binney clearly needed a new boiler and central heating system although other schemes were unable to assist.  However, she was able to take advantage of Warm Zone gap funding for vulnerable homes to get this new system installed.  This package of assistance has made a major difference to Mrs Binney’s overall health and wellbeing.  She now has a modern, efficient heating system and the additional income to pay for her energy bills and can look forward to a winter with much less anxiety about keeping warm and well.

6) Mrs Turnbull

Mrs Turnbull, a 76-year-old widow with a history of bowel cancer, COPD, arthritis and balance problems, contacted the Warm Zone in response to an article in the press. Warm Zone identified that she needed a new gas boiler and was not claiming all the benefits she was entitled to.  Warm Zones used ECO funding, supplemented by its own local crisis gap funding, to install a new boiler free of charge.  The Warm Zone benefits advisor then identified that Mrs Turnbull was entitled to Attendance Allowance and because she lives alone she also qualified for an increase in her Pension Credits.  The total gain was £7,209 with a one-off arrears payment of £2,140.  For the first time in many years, Mrs Turnbull can now afford to properly heat her home in order to help alleviate some of her health issues.

7) 4.5million households are classed as being in fuel poverty across the UK. These statistics are taken from the Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report 2015, Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), May 2015 measured under the 10% indicator. Under this indicator, a household is considered to be fuel poor if they were required to spend more than 10% of their income on fuel to maintain an adequate standard of warmth. An adequate standard of warmth is usually defined as 21ºC for the main living area, and 18ºC for other occupied rooms. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales continue to use the 10% definition and it is the basis of any respective statutory eradication targets.

8) Following the independent review of fuel poverty in England in 2012, fuel poverty in England is measured under the Low Income High Cost (LIHC) indicator. The table below uses the LIHC definition where a household is considered to be fuel poor where they have required fuel costs that are above average (the national median level) and were they to spend that amount, they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line. The LIHC measure consists of two parts, the number of households that have both low incomes and high fuel costs and the depth of fuel poverty amongst these households. The time lag in publication of official fuel poverty statistics, generally around two years between collection and publication, means that the UK Government’s estimates are not current. Below are the most recent related statistics for fuel poverty by English region under the LIHC definition.

 Region Proportion of households within group (%) Number of households    (000’s) Total number of households (000’s) Proportion of households fuel poor (%) Aggregate fuel poverty gap (£m) Average fuel poverty gap (£)
Not fuel poor Fuel poor Not fuel poor Fuel poor
East                 91                   9             2,269               218                              2,487                                  9.3               95              436
East Midlands                 90                 10             1,732               201                              1,934                                  8.6               81              401
London                 90                 10             3,004               326                              3,330                                13.9               99              304
North East                 88                 12             1,007               135                              1,142                                  5.7               34              255
North West                 89                 11             2,739               335                              3,073                                14.3              104              312
South East                 92                   8             3,362               297                              3,659                                12.7              117              395
South West                 88                 12             2,108               275                              2,382                                11.7              123              447
West Midlands                 86                 14             1,984               320                              2,304                                13.6              137              427
Yorkshire and the Humber                 89                 11             2,032               240                              2,271                                10.2               86              359
Total                 90                 10           20,236             2,347                            22,583                              100.0              877              374

9) On 25 November, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published Excess Winter Death figures for England and Wales for last year. These shocking statistics revealed the highest levels of EWM this century. Whilst large fluctuations in the number of excess winter deaths can occur and the relationship between EWM, low internal temperature, respiratory illness and influenza rates is complex, the World Health Organisation attributes at least 30% of EWM to households living in a cold home and winter deaths continue to exceed non-winter deaths by 27%. Sadly, these results were not a surprise and fuel poverty remains a bigger killer across the UK than road accidents, alcohol or drug abuse. For more information click here. Related statistics for EWM figures per region, England and Wales 2014/15 are below.

2014/15
  Excess winter deaths
   
Total England and Wales 43,900
England 41,400
North East 2,400
North West 6,000
Yorkshire and The Humber 4,100
East Midlands 3,900
West Midlands 4,400
East of England 4,900
London 4,000
South East 6,600
South West 5,100
Wales 2,600

 

10) National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines on excess winter deaths and illness and the health risks associated with cold homes were published in March 2015. See: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng6 .The figures NEA has cited for the costs to the NHS are extrapolated from Age UK estimates that cold homes cost the NHS in England £1.36billion per year in hospital and primary care (2012). See: www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-news/archive/cold-homes-cost-nhs-1-point-36-billion/.

11) The recognised benefits of acting to end fuel poverty can improve millions of people’s lives whilst boosting the economy and creating local jobs. Adequate investment in domestic energy efficiency can also return over £3 to the economy per £1 invested by central government; help create a 26% reduction in imports of natural gas in 2030; domestic consumers could save over £8billion per annum in total energy bill savings; increase relative GDP by 0.6% by 2030; increase employment by up to 108,000 net jobs and help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 23.6MtCO2 reductions per annum by 2030. For more information on the economic and fiscal impacts of making homes highly energy efficient visit the Energy Bill Revolution website here.

12) The Fuel Poverty (England) Regulations 2014 are now law. The objective is to ensure that as many fuel poor homes as is reasonably practicable have a minimum energy efficiency rating of Band C by 31 December 2030. This goal is supported by non-binding interim targets and the Fuel Poverty Strategy which was published in March 2015. However, current resources are less than half of what is required to meet these targets and according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)’s own statistics currently only c. 23,000 low-income households are currently being brought up to EPC Band C per year. As a result NEA estimates the UK Government could miss the fuel poverty target in England by 80 years and 1.8million fuel poor households may still be living in homes below EPC Band C by 2030. In addition, some fuel poor households could be waiting over 230 years to receive some insulation measures like solid wall insulation. For further information regarding NEA’s key policy asks please download NEA’s policy briefing here.

 

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