A medical editorial which claims cold homes can be fatal as well as damage the environment has appeared, to coincide with a study on the subject commissioned by Friends of the Earth (FoE).
The editorial in the British Medical Journal was published as the report, written by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, appeared, saying that about 5,500 more deaths happen in the coldest 25% of houses each year in the UK than would happen if the homes were warm.
The editorial said three potential gains from improving homes’ insulation in Britain − saving lives, protecting the environment and lowering health inequalities − were identified in Professor Marmot’s report.
While elderly people living in cold homes are more prone to heart and lung disease, cold homes can affect health at any age, say the authors. Children are more likely to suffer from breathing problems and adolescents living in a cold house have an increased risk of mental health problems.
In the report for FoE, Keith Dear and Anthony McMichael, from the Australian National University in Canberra, highlight that there are more winter deaths in countries with less severe and milder winter climates.
This is because in very cold countries, such as Finland and Sweden, building standards have already been improved. Yet the problem in the UK remains severe, they say.
Taking action on cold homes, say the authors, is a win-win scenario. While saving lives and improving health, governments would also be tackling climate change.
The authors conclude that Britain “is saddled with obsolete housing stock many decades, if not centuries, old. These inadequate homes are a waste of energy, a health hazard, and (given today’s levels of national wealth) a shameful relic for their part in fostering persistent, avoidable, social inequity.”
They called on governments to “heed the call in this timely report”.