New polling commissioned by the RCP has found that rising energy bills have led to over two thirds of Brits (69%) feeling more worried about their ability to stay warm and healthy at home this winter compared to last winter.
A YouGov poll, commissioned by the RCP, found that 75% of people were planning to use less heating this winter.
The findings provide yet further evidence of the link between good health and the environments people live in. When asked what they would do if they or a member of their household needed to use more heating than usual to avoid ill health, only 22% said they would heat their home as necessary because they could afford the cost. 14% said they would not heat the home as needed due to the extra cost, rising to 21% of those with a child aged 12-16.
The cold can have a wide ranging and serious impact on health, including causing or worsening respiratory conditions and cardiovascular diseases to poor mental health and hypothermia According to the polling, 17% of people in a lower social grade (C2DE) had been told by a health professional to keep their home warm in order to avoid ill health – almost double that of those in a higher social grade (ABC1 - 9%).
It’s estimated that the NHS spends at least £2.5bn a year on treating illnesses that are directly linked to cold, damp and dangerous homes. The RCP says that the rising cost of living should be ‘a wake-up call’ to take action on the factors that shape health and create inequalities in health such as housing, employment (including how much money you have) and air pollution.
The Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA), a group of over 200 organisations convened by the RCP, has today written to the new secretary of state for health and social care warning that the health inequalities that were exacerbated by the pandemic now risk being ‘further engrained if bold, ambitious action is not taken’.
Health inequalities are unfair and avoidable differences in health and access to healthcare across the population, and between different groups within society. The rising cost of living, and most recently the concern around rising energy bills, is likely to exacerbate them. Polling published in May of this year 55% of British adults said they felt their health had been negatively impacted by the rising cost of living - with the rising costs of heating (84%), food (78%), transport (46%) as the most popular reasons amongst these people.
The IHA is calling for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities. In its letter to the new secretary of state, the IHA asks for a renewed commitment to publishing the Health Disparities white paper that was announced earlier this year and for that white paper to commit to clear cross-government action, including an explicit cross-government strategy. It says that without a clear cross-government focus on the issues that cause ill health, “the DHSC and NHS will be left in the ultimately unsustainable position of trying to treat illness created by the environments people live in”. It says a cross-government strategy would provide a significant step forward in reducing the unequal levels of health in the UK, and in the long term would reduce pressure on and provide savings to the NHS.
Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “There is no doubt in my mind that this winter will be one of the hardest that many people in the UK have ever had to face. We know that the cold can exacerbate health conditions and can even be the cause of ill health in the first place – particularly among children – so to hear that so many families in the most deprived areas of our society will struggle to heat their homes this winter, even when advised by a health professional to do so, fills me with fear.
“The cost-of-living crisis is yet another reminder that our health is a product of our environment. To create good health, we have to focus on the factors that shape it. In the long term we need a concerted cross-government effort to reduce health inequalities. But without immediate government support for people who will struggle to make ends meet this winter, we are likely to see more people needing the NHS and social care services and we risk being overwhelmed.
Notes to editors
About the polling
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from two surveys conducted by YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1996 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th - 29th August 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Total sample size was 2001 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 29th April - 2nd May 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).