Image by Tom Raftery via FlickrAt Churches Together in England's Enabling Group last month, members were invited to encourage their churches to support the Rights to Warmth campaign. Plenty of details are on their website. For those who haven't time to follow the link, a brief account of their work, adapted from their information, follows.
Affordability of heating for the home is a problem for many. Help is available but has relatively low take-up for many. What's going on?
There were 36 700 winter deaths in 2008/9, which is regarded as excessive. There were also over 290 000 estimated emergency hospital admissions. Cold exacerbates many conditions, eg a living room temperature 1degree C lower increases blood pressure by 1.3mmHg. Cold air affects the protective function of the respiratory tract. These lead to increased possibility of strokes, pneumonia, asthma, arthritis, mental confusion and social health.
Failure to stray warm at home is a function of energy consumption, condition of housing, low income, cost of energy and attitudes. The danger is that elderly people are less sensitive to cold than younger people and so they are less aware when they are cold.
Advice is available for all people about reducing energy consumption. There is a definition of 'fuel poverty', which is a gateway to additional support. There are 'warm front' grants to improve home energy efficiency and benefit entitlements for people with low incomes. All energy suppliers have a Priority Services Register for vulnerable customers, which means they receive special free services, including discounted tariffs, although eligibility varies.
Take up is low and this seems to be largely through a lack of trust in suppliers. People don't trust being 'sold to' and find the system difficult to navigate.
Rights to Warmth is an information campaign, raising awareness of the health effects of cold, why accepting support is responsible and the need for community support (including churches). People might accept support form GPs and community sources, eg by looking out for people. Use of thermometers would help.
The overall impact of cold means people have reduced independence, are less able to participate socially and increase costs to the NHS.