Fuel poverty and health campaigners today called on the newly launched Public Health England to address the devastating impact of cold homes on the health of the nation.
Campaigners welcomed the shift in responsibility for public health to local authorities and the opportunity this creates to address a major root cause of health problems in the UK – the woeful levels of insulation in the nation’s homes.
Mostly as a result of poor insulation levels, fuel poverty now affects over 5 million households in the UK. Living in cold homes doubles the likelihood of a respiratory illness such as asthma in children and quadruples the risk of mental health problems for teenagers. Fuel poverty is estimated to cost the NHS over £1bn every year.
The Energy Bill Revolution campaign estimates that on average over 7,000 people die every year from living in cold homes. The big freeze that has affected the UK in recent weeks almost certainly means that more people have died because they cannot keep their homes warm.
The Energy Bill Revolution is calling for carbon tax to be used to fund an ambitious energy efficiency programme to super-insulate the homes of the fuel poor. The Government will collect over £60 billion in carbon tax over the next 15 years which is enough to make every fuel poor home highly energy efficient and slash their energy bill by over £300 ever year.
Carbon Tax can provide a massive financial boost for Public Health England and local authorities to support the delivery of such a programme. This would help improve the health of some of the UK’s most vulnerable citizens, keeping them out of hospital and easing the burden on the NHS.
The Department of Health’s new ‘Public Health Outcomes Framework for England, 2013-2016’ identifies reducing fuel poverty as one of its key indicators for addressing the wider determinants of heath. Reducing mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and excess winter deaths are also identified as indicators against which the whole public health system should deliver improvements. It is vital that local authorities, in partnership with health and well-being boards, prioritise these indicators in local strategies if they are to fulfil their responsibilities to protect the health of their local population.
Jo Butcher, Public Health Adviser for Friends of the Earth, said:
“As energy bills continue to soar and another cold snap hits the UK, millions of fuel poor households face difficult ‘heat or eat’ choices. It is a national disgrace that so many die each year due to cold, damp and poorly insulated housing. Public Health England must prioritise action to tackle fuel poverty and the Government must use carbon tax to fund a much bigger programme to insulate UK homes. Energy efficiency is commonly perceived to be the domain of the environment sector but I hope the new public health service will demonstrate it has a central role to play. The transfer of public health to local authorities is good news – they are used to managing housing and environmental health issues and are well placed to bring together the range of services that need to be involved in tackling the cold homes crisis.”
Jane Landon, Deputy Chief Executive at the National Heart Forum, commented:
“Cold, damp homes are responsible for avoidable deaths and needless health problems for many people in this country. The Government has committed to reducing avoidable mortality and action to tackle fuel poverty and its effects must be a priority to help achieve this. We welcome the establishment of Public Health England. Its role in the delivery of public health nationally and locally and its focus on reducing inequalities is a new opportunity to tackle fuel poverty.”
Energy Bill Revolution, the largest fuel poverty alliance ever assembled, is backed by 120 organisations representing the children’s, health, environmental, housing, disability and consumer sectors, businesses, academia, politicians, local councils and the public. The Energy Bill Revolution is asking Government to recycle the substantial funds it receives from carbon tax revenues (an average of £4bn annually over the next 15 years) into energy efficiency programmes to eradicate fuel poverty www.energybillrevolution.org