14 million people risked ill health because of high energy prices last winter – are you one of them?
Published 26 April 2015 by Hayley Cox
As 14 million people in fuel poverty went cold over the winter, we look at the very real health issues this creates.
Remember when your mum used to tell you to wrap up warm or you’d get a cold? Well, turns out she was right, and there’s research to prove it. Why is this an issue? Because new research from uSwitch suggests that 14 million people went cold last winter, simply because they couldn’t afford to pay their gas and electricity bills. The problem is getting so bad that two fifths of those asked admitted to rationing their energy use, the result of which was the belief that the cold had created problems with their health.
Being cold affects our health
So how true is this belief? Is there any real risk to health from living in the cold, or is it just unpleasant?
Well, a quick look at recent research shows that those suffering from fuel poverty are right to be worried about their health – cold does affect it. A study, published in January by Yale University, showed that the cold allowed rhinoviruses – the common cold – to replicate far quicker than at warmer temperatures. In fact, rhinoviruses have a special coating that protects them from the cold, allowing them live longer ion cold weather.
In addition, cold temperatures change the immune system, making it less efficient. In fact it was described as allowing the virus to replicate ‘virtually unchecked’ according to the Yale study. The combination of these two factors leads to rapid infection and illness. In the young, fit and healthy this temporary blip might end up with a couple of days in bed. But, for the elderly, frail and sick the illness could result in a hospital stay. And colds and flu are not the only health issues related to cold homes. The NHS details depression, strokes and pneumonia as being risk factors too.
What are the Government doing?
The UK Government are already aware that living in cold homes creates illness – they produced a report on this very issue. And the NHS provide help specifically to tackle this issue. Which begs the question, why isn’t something being done about it? There are a few things they’re doing below, but how can you stop yourself becoming ill if you expect to be one of the 4.8 million who’ll be classed as having fuel vulnerability this year?
Get ready now for next year!
Now’s the time to get ready for this years cold weather. We know it seems strange to think about the cold weather again now summer’s on its way, but it’ll be so worth it when it does return. So, use this checklist to cold-proof you and your home:
1. Find out if there are any government grants or grants provided by your energy supplier that you can claim to insulate your home or have a new energy efficient boiler fitted.
2.Find out if you’re eligible for the government's Warm Home Discount – you could be eligible to a one-off payment of £140.
3.Invest in some wool jumpers – be like 8 in 10 of those in the fuel poverty in the UK and put on some extra layers. Charity shops are a great place to pick up cheap jumpers and wool is one of the best materials for keeping you warm.
4.Gather wool blankets and hot water bottles – this may seem silly, but they’ll keep you warm. Pick up cheap wool, or fleece, blankets in charity shops if you can too.
5.If you can afford to, try to save each month for your gas and electric through the whole year. This way you’ll have, hopefully, built up a bit of credit when it comes to the winter months.
6.Find out if you’re eligible for the winter flu jab and follow the advice of the NHS for keeping well in winter.
What can thinkmoney customers do?
If you’re a thinkmoney account holder, speak to a Money Manager – they can put you in touch with our Money Saving Team who can check the market to see if they can find you a cheaper gas and electricity tariff than you’re currently on, which could help you save a few pennies.
If you have any other ideas to help stop fuel vulnerability, let us know on our facebook page or twitter feed.