More than 1m poor people with health problems in England at risk from cold

Calls for extra winter help as ONS estimates 1.3m people with heart and breathing conditions living in poverty

More than a million people living with heart and breathing problems could be at greater risk of hospitalisation or death owing to poverty leaving them more likely to be exposed to the cold, figures suggest.

The data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that there are 1.3 million people with cardiovascular and respiratory conditions living in poverty, and that they are more likely to be older people, prompting calls for extra help to deal with the cold weather.

“What’s particularly concerning for those 1.3 million people is that we know … they’re in a financial position where you’ve got to assume that they will potentially be struggling to afford to be adequately warm at home,” said Ruthe Isden, the head of health at Age UK, which has produced a guide to staying warm and healthy this winter for older people.

She called on the government to extend help with rising energy bills beyond the current cutoff next March – and to ensure it is available to everyone living in poverty. In the longer term, she said, the government must invest in properly insulating people’s homes.

The ONS said the proportion of people who had cardiovascular or respiratory conditions and were living in poverty was particularly high in coastal areas and in the north-west of England, as well as in older age groups.

William Roberts, the chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said people had already made any cutbacks they could and were now making choices based on affordability, which have had an impact on their health.

He said the government had to revisit the financial support being given to households and services, including “targeted support for those most in need and appropriate funding for local government”. He added: “It is imperative that governments do all that they can, or we risk the health and wealth of our nation even more and a further levelling down.”

The ONS said its data did not demonstrate that there was a direct link between poverty and developing a heart or breathing condition, but cited research showing that people with these conditions who are poor are more likely to have adverse health outcomes, including those related to cold exposure.

The ONS data showed that a further 5.3 million people were living with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, but were not living in poverty and therefore could not be assumed to have a greater risk of exposure to the cold.

The total number of people living in private households thought to be living in poverty is 10.8 million, according to the data.

A recent report by the UCL Institute of Health Equity suggested that living in a cold home, as many poorer people are forced to do, is associated with poor health.

Michael Marmot, a professor of epidemiology at University College London, wrote in September that being both cold and poor would result in “worse health and greater health inequalities”. He warned of a “humanitarian crisis” unless the problem of fuel poverty was resolved in the longer term.


Kevin Rawlinson

The GuardianTramp

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