Cold homes are believed to be a significant factor in excess winter deaths recorded in the UK, and low internal and/or external temperatures are associated with ill health, but it has often been a challenge to demonstrate a causal link because of the complex variables involved and the prohibitive expense of dedicated research. It is often assumed that low-income households are at a high risk in this respect, being less able to afford to heat their homes or pay for improvements and more likely to live in properties in poor repair.
The value of energy efficiency schemes is often described in terms of reduced consumption, which neglects the other potential advantages. Establishing a way of reliably measuring the health status of households in properties with different energy performance would offer an additional business case, which could be used by local councils and health services to demonstrate that the value of investing in these programmes goes beyond energy savings.
Key research Question
The research tested a methodology for calculating the benefits of energy efficiency improvements among low-income households, particularly with regard to health improvements. It investigated whether this method could quantify the health gains and robustly demonstrate a connection between energy performance and health and considered its applicability for evaluating and monitoring intervention programmes, especially at a local level.
Summary of activity
The study adopted an epidemiological model to mathematically estimate the relationship between the energy performance of a home and the health and warmth of its residents. Resulting data were then mapped onto a GIS-based software tool to enable a visual representation.
It also sought to test this method on houses that had undergone energy efficiency improvements in order to quantify the positive health benefits of such work. Such evidence would not only be practically useful in terms of monitoring the outcomes of individual schemes but also offer support to policies designed to promote greater emphasis on energy efficiency. The study correlated existing data on low incomes, hospital admissions and home energy ratings (Standard Assessment Procedure). It utilised information from the English House Condition Survey and Census, as well as Met Office weather data. The data related to the borough of Newham, East London.
The pilot appeared to confirm the relationship between home energy ratings and hospital admissions. This suggests that the methodology has the potential to produce a baseline area map of the distribution of fuel poverty and excess winter deaths. The opportunity exists to measure changes in health status following improvements and the cost savings to the health service.
A number of challenges were identified. These included difficulties in sourcing appropriate, comparable and up-to-date data from local services and the potentially limited reliability of some datasets, as well as issues surrounding data protection.
The study recommended that the method be tested further in other geographical locations and other data sources be added to refine the calculations and confirm the preliminary findings. Further development of the method needs to be undertaken to enable it to estimate the health savings resulting from improvement work.
Issues of data protection should be resolved with the relevant services and ethics panels. One solution may be to use data at a higher geographical level, but this is dependent on obtaining the appropriate data.
Local councils and health authorities should work in partnership on data collection to enable this type of mapping to occur. An agreed protocol for producing the relevant data and sharing them for this purpose should be established.