Around 9,000 people died during the winter of 2014-15 as a result of living in a cold home. These figures, from a study by University College London, show that one fifth of the 43,900 excess winter deaths were caused by health conditions brought on or exacerbated by fuel poverty.
The risks of cold weather to health are well known. Recent research by the University of Bristol, University College London and the British Heart Foundation found that cold snaps double the risk of a major cardiovascular event. Numerous studies have shown that levels of influenza also rise in the winter, along with respiratory diseases, dementia and increased blood pressure.
Tackling the health consequences of low indoor temperatures is something that Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional, Economic and Social Research (CRESR) has been investigating. Our aim is to assess simple, low cost ways to help vulnerable people stay warm in their homes; measures that could be adopted at scale across different heath economies.
We evaluated energy efficiency improvements made to the homes of 4,000 vulnerable people in 2016 by housing charity, Foundations Independent Living Trust (FILT). The ‘Warm at Home’ programme provided £637,000 to pay for thousands of repairs, from fitting reflector radiator panels and replacing boilers to draught-proofing windows.
Our evaluation showed that these minor repairs had a sizeable impact on health, wellbeing and likely admission avoidance. Results indicated that the programme led to an additional 121.8 QALYs (quality-adjusted life years). Every £1 spent on home interventions led to £4 in health benefits and the total value of benefits gained was £2,436,000.
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This article was written by Jan Gilbertson, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University