As part of Mental Health Awareness Week – held between the 8th and 14th of May – Action Surrey has looked at how fuel poverty can affect a person’s health and wellbeing, and looks to offer practical advice to Surrey residents to try and help reduce the impacts. Fuel poverty is defined by the Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as ‘low income Vs high fuel costs’, and more specifically in England as when a household has fuel costs above the national average and – were the resident to spend that amount – would leave them with a residual income below the poverty line.
The health and wellbeing impacts of fuel poverty, particularly for the elderly or vulnerable, can be highly detrimental – for example, a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth in 2011 found a direct correlation between excess winter deaths and thermally inefficient homes and/or low indoor temperature. Living in a cold home can also be attributed to cardiovascular and respiratory problems as well as exacerbating pre-existing health conditions of this nature.
Whilst there has been a wide range of research into the effects of fuel poverty on health, relatively little research has been undertaken into the impact it has on the wellbeing of residents. Whilst the 2011 report commissioned by Friends of the Earth does touch on this, stating that the stress of managing to pay energy bills with insufficient income can have a negative effect on emotional wellbeing, fuel poverty does have a far wider impact than realised. For example, a study carried out by Shelter in 2006 found that children growing up in poor housing conditions – such as cold homes – were more likely to be suffering from anxiety and depression. Friends of the Earth’s report also stated that whilst all age groups can have their mental health affected by living in a cold home, more than 1 in 4 adolescents living in poor quality housing are at risk of multiple mental health issues.
Whilst the stress of managing to pay energy bills – and balance other costs such as rent, council tax, food, etc – can be a significant contributor to mental health issues, a wider issue as a result of fuel poverty can be reduced social mobility for residents. For instance, many residents living in cold homes have little disposable income as a result of their high fuel bills and therefore are less likely to interact with other people through leisure activities. Furthermore, many of these people may not wish for their friends and family to visit them at their household if it is cold and uncomfortable. In 2016 National Energy Action (NEA) stated that social isolation can be a problem when a home is not a welcoming environment and that there is also evidence that cold homes can reduce educational attainment.
Whilst the impact fuel poverty has on health and wellbeing can be very detrimental to households, there is help available for those living in cold homes. Action Surrey – Surrey’s independent advice service – can help you access local and national grants towards measures such as cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and replacement boilers. If you live in a cold home – or know somebody who does – please contact Action Surrey whilst there is still funding available.
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