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Fuel poverty kettle on gas hob

New research highlights the increased mental health risks of fuel poverty.

Fuel poverty can increase mental health risks for social housing tenants

New research published in Wellbeing, Space and Society, highlights the increased mental health risks of fuel poverty, for people living in social housing.

Fuel poverty is a growing problem across the UK. Current estimates indicate that fuel poverty affects around 2.53 million UK households, leading to more respiratory problems and deaths in winter.

Researchers from the Smartline Project warn that social housing tenants with disabilities and chronic diseases are most vulnerable, and that fuel poverty measurements need to be more flexible to provide more targeted support.

Report Highlights:

1. Fuel poverty has negative health impacts for social housing tenants.
2. Tenants with disabilities and chronic diseases are more vulnerable to fuel poverty.
3. Fuel poverty relates to socio-economic and housing characteristics.

Living in a cold home increases mental health risks

Working in partnership with Coastline Housing, the research team surveyed 329 social housing tenants to collect self-reported measures of fuel poverty and information about their health and wellbeing. They also installed smart sensors in 280 of the surveyed tenant’s homes to track the temperature and humidity levels of the house.

The findings reveal that living in a cold home increases the risk of mental health issues. Combining the temperature data with a detailed survey on people’s household living conditions, survey responses indicated that several tenants were experiencing fuel poverty. This is despite their home temperatures reading warmer than what is considered to be fuel poverty. For example, having a health condition like COPD, can mean that people experience the cold differently. This finding highlights the need for more flexible measurements of fuel poverty that specifically consider the needs of vulnerable groups.

This is a complex social issue, says lead researcher Dr. Gengyang Tu, from the University of Exeter:

“We need to support people’s needs by understanding who is most at risk and how that can lead to, or exacerbate, health conditions. For example, some fuel poor families need warmer homes since they have respiratory diseases. By identifying and supporting fuel poor households, local authorities can work holistically to improve public health, improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon in the housing sector.”

Using technology to ensure smarter homes

In the UK, social housing associations are responsible for providing affordable housing to many low-income families. Smart sensors allow associations to work with their tenants to improve the home environment, and consequently, improve health and wellbeing.

Dr Tu continues:

“Improving the energy efficiency of social housing to achieve an EPC rating of D may not be enough to eliminate the risk of cold in low-income households. Tenants may continue to ration heating regardless, because they are unable to afford the energy bills. Therefore, we need to make sure social housing is affordable for everyone to heat and ventilate, and digital technology such as smart sensors can make that possible.”

Read the full paper online 

Citation: Gengyang Tu, Karyn Morrissey, Richard A. Sharpe, Tim Taylor, Combining self-reported and sensor data to explore the relationship between fuel poverty and health well-being in UK social housing, Wellbeing, Space and Society, Volume 3, 2022.

Date: 26 January 2022

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