Fuel Poverty and Health
The connection between fuel poverty and health is based upon the impact of living in cold, damp homes. Those who are fuel poor are more likely to turn their heating down below the level adequate for their wellbeing and are more likely to live in energy inefficient homes, which are poorly insulated and prone to dampness.
According to a number of research studies over the years, ill health due to cold homes costs the NHS millions of pounds a year. Fuel poverty, through living in a cold and damp home, is a clear contributory factor in health issues such as respiratory diseases, heart diseases, circulatory diseases, and mental health problems. It also contributes towards increased winter deaths, repeat visits to GPs and admissions to hospitals.
EAS supports the argument that to integrate health issues with fuel poverty contributes to the achievement of preventative spending. Professor Christine Liddell, University of Ulster, has asserted that for every £1 spent reducing fuel poverty, the NHS saves 42 pence.
EAS believes there are two main avenues that need to be pursued to help integrate the issues surrounding health and fuel poverty.
Health Professionals’ Training and Continuous Professional Development (CPD)
EAS believes that relevant information needs to be part of health professionals’ training and fed into their CPD. This would not aim to make health professionals experts in energy but would help to raise awareness and assist them in signposting to sources of assistance. Such information would include being able to recognise the signs of fuel poverty and where to direct patients to get help and advice regarding their energy needs. Where health professionals are frontline staff, they see patients face to face, often in their homes. This, in conjunction with them customarily being trusted by patients, presents a perfect opportunity to identify and refer those suspected of being fuel poor to the necessary place to get help.
Multi-Organisational Referral System
Finding the fuel poor can be expensive. Energy companies complain that the time and other resources associated with finding the fuel poor to enable them to meet their social obligations costs them significant money, with this cost in turn being passed on to every consumer. One solution is to have many different organisations, which are already in the community, helping to identify and refer people who are fuel poor or at risk of being fuel poor to a central system to get advice and help. Already the Department for Work and Pensions and energy companies exchange information securely to facilitate finding particular vulnerable consumers who are claiming benefits.
EAS advocates examining how a government-funded, nationwide, multi-organisational referral system that involves the energy companies, health service, social services, charities and local authority departments might work. This should lead to an increase in up-take of energy efficiency measures, energy advice and other support in general. The outcome of this would be the reduction in the time and therefore costs of finding fuel poor consumers and ultimately help many more people suffering from cold homes to get help sooner. It is also likely to demonstrate benefits in terms of the health service, local authorities etc saving money through preventative spending.