Insulating Homes is Good for Healthy Living

23 Feb 2023
Man insulating a wall

At least 10,000 people die every winter in the UK because their home isn't warm enough. Living in a cold home puts millions of people with health conditions at particular risk of harm - health conditions such as respiratory diseases like COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis or bronchiectasis, cardio-vascular diseases and illnesses affecting the immune system such as arthritis, asthma, or those undergoing chemotherapy. Many people with these conditions have frequent admissions to hospital, usually with respiratory infections and it's estimated that living in cold homes costs the NHS £860 million a year.

Speaking to Newcastle City Council, Cllr Dr Wendy Taylor said: "Our great National Health Service, first proposed by the Liberal William Beveridge in 1942 is under serious threat, due to under- investment and the failure to deal with the rising demand for both health care and social care and the successive Goverments' failure to reform social care. The result is that hospitals across the UK are struggling both with too many admissions and beds blocked by those fit enough for discharge, but with nowhere to go. At present a huge number of respiratory illnesses are adding to the pressure, including COVID, flu and RSV infections.

"In addition the UK is facing a cost of living crisis, with energy prices on the rise and millions of households across the country struggling to keep warm. Even with the Government Energy Bills Support Scheme, it is estimated around 7 million homes or over 25% of households were in fuel poverty by end of 2022 - up from 13% before the current crisis.

"In this situation a cost-effective scheme that helps to stop patients needing to go into hospital should be a top priority. So we welcome the results of a pilot scheme which allowed GPs to prescribe heating to patients at increased risk of hospital admission. The warm home prescription pilot, which was trialled in Gloucestershire last year, allowed NHS teams (including social
prescribers and complex care teams linked to GP surgeries) to identify eligible people. They were then contacted directly by their local NHS and offered a "warm home prescription" delivered by local energy advisors, who directly credited money onto recipients energy bill. Once the credit was applied, patients could immediately startheating their home to a healthy temperature between 18C and 21C. Further home energy upgrades were arranged where possible. In contrast to the NHS cost of £860 per year I mentioned before, the pilot scheme cost on average only £647 per person.

"These are some of the comments from those involved in the trial "I normally end up in hospital in the colder months. I tend to get pneumonia, pleurisy, flu and stuff, which does land me in hospital. The last time it almost landed me in intensive care. This year, I didn't actually need to see the doctor at all." "When I've been able to heat more constantly, I haven't really needed to go to the doctors for antibiotic and steroids like I have done in the past. So, it was good for my health." "Mum is feeling a lot better. She's not staying in bed as long because obviously now it's nice and warm for her to get out of bed."

"Of course it's not just grants for heating that are needed, but also serious efforts to insulate our homes and end fuel poverty. The UK Government spends £2.5 billion each year trying to reduce fuel poverty. However, only 16% of that reaches fuel poor households and less still reaches those who are fuel poor and have significant health conditions. Over many years Newcastle Council has tried to improve home insulation, via the Warm Zone and other schemes, but there are still too many households in fuel poverty.

"So, our motion calls for Newcastle to be included in any future trials of Warm Home prescription and for the Council to accelerate the programme to get all Newcastle homes insulated. Liberal Democrat Councillors are aware that Newcastle's public health team already have plans to use some public health money to fund a similar short-term warm home prescription scheme until March this year, which will give eligible patients a grant for their heating costs. We've been told that the energy services team will prescribe a heating plan to keep homes at temperatures that mitigate the risk of hospital admissions and serious illness, as recommended by Public Health guidance. In addition, the team will also be able to check that residents are linked into the appropriate advice and grants for sustainable support.

"This scheme is of course very welcome and should provide additional evidence of the effectiveness of the approach, but we believe the scheme should be rolled out and funded by the Government, as the financial benefit of keeping vulnerable people out of hospital will not be felt by local Councils."

Cllr Robin Ashby also said in the debate : "Warm homes also make a small contribution to carbon neutrality by reducing the waste of energy resulting from poor insulation. That is of course in addition to the threat to health and well being, as well as premature deaths. While I welcome the Sustainable Warmth scheme launched by the Council before Christmas, and wish it well, I note that it is limited in its ambition.

"Colleagues will have noted that it is targeted at Newcastle City Council residents who:

  • own their homes or rent from a private landlord;
  • have a gross household income of £30,000 per year or less;
  • live in homes with a low energy rating (as shown on an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), where the rating is either D/E/F/G)

"I very much look forward to learning of the success of this programme, which is important to so many. I hope that it doesn't get bogged down in bureaucracy, is implemented at scale and quickly, that it is expanded to homes where household income is higher and/or the EPC rating is higher, and that local companies and workers are used in its implementation. And although making energy efficiency a planning condition is problematic, I hope that Councillors on the Planning Committee ask hard questions of developers about their proposals to minimise energy use."

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