Healthy homes fund helps improve lives of people with mental ill-health
A GB-wide scheme to help people who couldn’t afford to keep warm at home has made a positive impact for those with mental health illnesses.
National Energy Action’s (NEA) Health and Innovation Programme provided heating, insulation and energy efficiency measures for households most at risk of fuel poverty or cold-related illness, through health and housing partnerships and home improvement agencies.
From having central heating installed, often for the first time, to smaller measures such as boiler repairs, people from across England, Wales and Scotland benefited from the scheme.
Adam Scorer, Chief Executive at National Energy Action said: “We partnered with local delivery agents to effectively target those in most need. As a result, we’ve helped touch the lives of some of those struggling with mental ill-health. Studies have found that in particular, stress, anxiety and depression can be exacerbated by living in cold temperatures. Then on top of that, struggling with paying bills and falling into debt can have further detrimental effects.”
“It’s something that we want to highlight this Mental Health Awareness Week, as it’s an effect of mental health illness that is not very well known.”
NEA was able to fund ‘large’ measures, such as installing central heating but also aided some households with ‘small’ measures, which included loft insulation, draught proofing, radiator panels, low-energy light bulbs and boiler repairs.
One householder, Paul, told NEA the about the impact that struggling with his unmanageable budget had had upon his life and mental well-being: “Well I have a fortnightly injection and it makes you cold, it makes you hungry…. I didn’t have the money to put money on the gas, I was always, like, robbing Peter to pay Paul as it were…so it was a case of…just trying to keep warm and comfortable. But I tended to spend a lot of time in bed…if you’re already suffering from depression, that’s not a place you wanna be.”
Before receiving our support, almost half of those surveyed (44.7%) felt that the inability to keep homes comfortably warm affected their mental health.
Since receiving support however over one-third felt that their mental health had improved. Similarly, 43.7% of householders had experienced an improvement in existing health conditions (including a mental health condition), of which 51.4% felt this was linked to receiving help.
Altogether over 9,000 households have received at least one measure (exceeding our target by 36%).
Notes for editors:
Impact of the Health Innovation Programme fund on mental ill-health
The full social evaluation of the Warm and Healthy Homes Fund is currently underway and will be available soon. In the meantime, some of the key impacts relating to mental health are below.
Prevalence of mental health conditions
There was a high prevalence of health conditions within HIP household, the fourth most common health condition was Anxiety and/or Depression which affected nearly one-quarter (23.0% of large measures and 23.7% of small measures) of recipient households. A further 6.8% (large) and 9.3% (small) had other mental health conditions. One respondent, Edward, told us how the scheme had helped to improve their mental wellbeing: “I do not know how this grant was instigated but I’m glad it was. At the time I wasn’t bothered as I had a very low mental state. Then along came this person who put a positive slant on things and proved that good things can happen. So although my physical health is still not good it would have been much worse. My mental health is much better. A big thank you.”
Another respondent, Oliver, talked about how changes in personal circumstances and ability to afford energy bills worsened their existing mental health condition: “When I first changed from working to becoming a pensioner I used to get very depressed but I have learnt to budget and I just got, well it creates less trouble. That wasn’t the whole purpose of the depression and anxiety but with me being on a fixed budget probably contributed to it as well but it doesn’t bother me now.”
Impact of cold homes on mental health
The ability to keep homes comfortably warm before receiving their intervention was something that almost half (44.7%) of large measures households felt affected their mental health.
Since receiving (large measures) interventions over one-third of households felt that their mental health had improved. Similarly, 43.7% of HH had experienced an improvement in existing health conditions (including a mental health conditions), of which 51.4% felt this was linked to receiving their intervention.
65.3% of large measures respondents said their energy bills were a little/a lot easier to afford after intervention and 33.5% of small measures respondents said the same. Joseph was one such respondent, who noted how a reduction in energy bill costs had helped ease his worry about his finances: “It’s always difficult for your energy bills but it’s a lot, lot better. A lot better. It has cut my monthly payments by 15%, 20%… it always makes a difference. I’m not so worried every month”. Although, a direct reduction in cost was not achieved for all households, interventions still helped to improve quality of life for respondents as noted by Catherine: “I suppose the energy bills are not actually smaller, because I wasn’t using much before, because it was cold all the time. But still, the energy bills are reasonable, paid monthly. But I wouldn’t say, it doesn’t sort of save you money putting a central heating system in. It’s that, basically, you’ve got a better standard of living.”
Thermal Comfort in the home
Overall, there were considerable improvements in how comfortable and warm households thought their homes, 85.7% of large measures households and 68% of small measures households experienced an increase in thermal comfort. Ned told us how his ability to keep more comfortably warm at home had helped to ease his stress levels: “I am now able to go out with peace of mind that I will not have a problem with my heating when I get back. I am also more comfortable in my home which makes me feel more relaxed and less stressed plus my heating bills have dropped significantly which is a big relief”. Catherine also told us how waking up in a warm home had helped her: “In the morning it was quite, it was very cold in the morning and it made things uncomfortable. [with the new heating system] I don’t think it’s physically made any difference, but mentally it obviously makes life a lot easier, so it makes for a more relaxing life. Particularly in the morning when we get up it’s now warm, instead of being freezing.”
Rationing energy and other essentials was commonplace prior to intervention among large measures households. Nearly three-quarters (71.3%) of large measures households cut back on heating at least some of the time to reduce energy bills. And, 45.1% of large measures households rationed food and other essentials such as clothes before intervention. The rationing of energy and other essentials was something that 24.1% (energy) and 19.0% (other essentials) of households were doing less of after receiving their interventions. One such respondent was Jane, how told us how her limited household budget caused her to worry and also meant that she often had to make difficult decisions about what to cut back on: “Basically, I didn’t really buy any clothing for myself, I was having to make do and mend with a lot of my clothing. It was cutting back on stuff as well for the girls and, again, they had to wear things right to the very bone, and it was just basically trying to live, not within my means, but well below my means, just to ensure that I’d got enough money so that I could top-up. And even that didn’t last because if the weather decided to take a very much of a decline, then you know, that’s something I can’t control and I’ve got to try and heat, and again, the last bad winter that we had, the actual, one of the storage heaters went and that was it, amidst the winter period. So, that was quite worrying really then, and then having to source parts and actual storage heaters, the cost of it, it was just too much, it would have put me into serious debt.”
Affordability of energy bills
For the majority of large measures households (66.8%) and a third (33.5%) of small measures households there was an improvement in the affordability of energy bills. This increased affordability had a broader impact upon households lives and indeed, mental health as Jane went on to say: ” …it’s affording events like Christmas, especially having two young children and being a lone mum, having to do everything myself. It’s hard to manage. I’m having to pay a mortgage as well on my own, so it’s relieved the stress. I’m able to budget better and I also know because it’s a quarterly bill, I’m able to plan out how much in terms of the estimated, because I’ve even registered with British Gas and got their application downloaded on my tablet, so that lets me be a lot more organised in terms of budgeting. And I’m able to do it in a much more relaxed way without sort of panicking about, “oh gosh, what’s going to happen if all my money has been set aside for this, this, this and the other, and then I’ve got no money left over and I need to keep topping up my meter. That has like sort of gone now.”
For a third of small measures households the worry associated with paying household bills on time was reduced and household budgets were made more manageable. Ibrahim told us the about the impact that struggling with his unmanageable budget had had upon his life and mental well-being: “Well I have a fortnightly injection and it makes you cold, it makes you hungry, I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have the money to put money on the gas, I was always, like, robbing Peter to pay Paul as it were, because I don’t get any maintenance, so it was a case of…I don’t know the word I’m looking for…just trying to keep warm and comfortable. But tended to spend a lot of time in bed, but if you’re already suffering from depression, that’s not a place you wanna be, is it.”
The impacts of fuel poverty can be far-reaching and affect many aspects on health and wellbeing and family life. As Rebecca told us: “The property is 100%, so I’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. My daughter’s bedroom is warm and that was important to me because obviously, because I’ve got disabilities, it was a major worry to me that their health may suffer because I hadn’t got adequate heating, and it make me feel rotten as a mum because of my fixed income I couldn’t do anything further without getting myself… If I went down a certain option of getting myself into a lot of debt, so to me, the stress eased, my anxiety, and my daughters feel much more comfortable in the home, especially in the bedroom… I think it made, because I’ve suffered especially over the last 12-18 months, with a lot of depression, stress and anxiety, like one leads to another, and basically, as soon as you got to a certain point of the year and the nights were drawing in and temperatures started to cool down, it sort of impacted on my depression. I just felt helpless and hopeless as a parent, it’s very frustrating. In terms of my daughters, for them being kept on an even keel because they’ve got epilepsy, and seeing me so stressed out in terms of like, and worrying as well about the cost to heat, because up until a point the property was electric only, it’d got no gas pipeline running in, so it was always a big dread, that you’ve got Christmas, you’ve got extra money that you’ve got to fork out for the heating. And there’ve been times when I’ve had nothing to eat just so long as I can put money on to the electric to keep the property heated. So, it was very stressful for me, and naturally eased my stress and frustration as well, my frustration levels have lowered significantly since having the new heating in, because I’m able to relax because I know that I can just go to the control in the hallway and just put it on and I’ll get heat.”
The number of HHs who felt relaxed often or all of the time increased from 16.2% of HHs Large measures interventions have, on the whole, improved the mental wellbeing of beneficiaries. Increases in the number of beneficiaries felt relaxed, optimistic, confident and cheerful all or some of the time increased by 33.1%, 21.6%, 21.2% and 23.2% respectively. This could help to contribute towards a happy and healthier living environment for households as Rebecca went on to note: “It is making the home a much more healthy and happy environment for them [the children] to be in, which makes me happy. I’m just so grateful for [the] Council and, the Healthy Living Advocate, and she put me in touch with National Energy Action, so I’m really, really grateful to everybody who’s assisted me, because it’s given me my life back, and it’s made my family and my home a much happier, healthier and safer place.”