Even before the current freezing weather, more than four out of 10 people felt the cost-of-living crisis was affecting their physical health – a situation now being exacerbated by people, especially home workers, avoiding heating their homes despite plummeting temperatures.
A survey of 2,081 UK adults for the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) found 41% of those polled were concerned the cost-of living-crisis was affecting their physical health.
And barely half (48%) felt confident they would still be able to rely on their social and community networks for mental and emotional support this winter.
Nearly half of households (47%), again, said they were concerned they were running out of ways to minimise costs further without cutting back on essentials.
The survey was carried out before this winter’s current freezing weather, which has led to further dire warnings about the effect of cold houses on mental and physical health.
The current unseasonally cold weather – which is likely to continue well into next week – has prompted a warning by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) that people should try to heat at least living rooms during the day and bedrooms before going to sleep, despite the soaring cost of energy.
Cost of living and health
It is estimated that more than three million households are unable to afford to heat their homes during the current spell of cold weather, so potentially putting their health at risk.
The fact, too, that more people are now working from potentially unheated home offices is only likely to worsen the situation.
It is well-recognised that, when temperatures plummet, hospitals see more patients with heart attacks, strokes and respiratory infections, including influenza.
Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause hypothermia, when the body’s temperature drop below 35°C. There is also a greater risk of falls in more icy conditions.
Cold temperatures are generally linked to greater mental health problems, such as depression. Other risks can include carbon monoxide poisoning from badly maintained or poorly ventilated boilers, cooking and heating appliances.
Dr Agostinho Sousa, consultant in public health medicine at UKHSA, said: “Cold weather can have serious consequences for health, and older people and those with heart or lung conditions can be particularly at risk.
“If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you should heat your home to a temperature that is comfortable for you. Try to heat the rooms you use most, such as the living and bedroom, to at least 18°C if you can and keep your bedroom windows closed at night.”
The agency has supplemented the cold weather plan for England with a range of extra resources and advice to its website on the risks of cold weather, as well as tips for staying warm and well this winter.
William Roberts, chief executive of the RSPH, said of the society’s research: “The cost-of-living crisis is a public health crisis and prevention of ill-health is key to supporting the financial growth and wellbeing of the nation.
“To ensure we are all supported to live healthier lives, more must be done to support households that have no way to respond to situations outside of their control. It is vital for that the response to the current crisis considers not just individual responsibility, but collective responsibility from all tiers of society, including government, local authorities, and employers,” he added.