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Tackling fuel poverty will save NHS up to £80m

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New project to raise awareness of fuel poverty among health professionals

Health and social care professionals across Scotland should be trained to spot the signs of fuel poverty and refer households for help, according to a homelessness charity.

Shelter Scotland this week launched the national Healthy Homes project to highlight the influence frontline staff have in the health and social care sectors who it says should be utilised to help identify the 845,000 households in fuel poverty.

The charity says that such a move has the potential to save NHS Scotland up to £80 million every year.

Funded by the charitable British Gas Energy Trust, the Healthy Homes project aims to build relationships between health, housing and energy sectors to help them work together to address Scotland’s fuel poverty crisis.

Shelter Scotland says that almost 35% of households in Scotland are in fuel poverty – a total of 845,000 families and individuals. The number of households in extreme fuel poverty in Scotland stands at 229,000.

Recent estimates claim that for every £1 spent reducing fuel poverty in Scotland, the NHS alone could save 42p.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Every year we hear from thousands of families and individuals making the stark choice between heating or eating, families who struggle to adequately heat their homes, plunging many into a cycle of energy debt, poor health and diminished future prospects.

The misery of fuel poverty

Ashley (22), lives in Dundee with her two children Ayla (4) and Lily-May (2). Shestruggles to keep her home warm and says the property is riddled with damp andmould.

"It'sbeen really hard for us in the last few months with it being so cold. I stillhave the heating on constantly to try and get the rooms warm for the children,but it makes little difference.

“I’vespent a fortune on heating, but no matter how much I spend or how long I havethe heating on for, it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

“There’smould crawling up the walls, around fuse boxes and electrics. I’m bleaching itas often as I can but the kids are always ill no matter what I do. We’reconstantly at the GP surgery and recently I had to take Lily-May to hospitalthings got so bad.

The children are either on antibiotics or steroids at anygiven time, and my little one has an inhaler because all of this damp has gotto her lungs.

“Theother day I found a rat in the flat and I’ve been told that’s because they seekout damp places to nest. It’s disgusting. How long can I live like this?”

“I buythe kids two beds each a year because I’m chucking out furniture that’s beentotally destroyed. Sometimes it’s so bad that the bedding they sleep in is wetby the middle of the night from all of the condensation.

“I just want my kids to be happy and healthy and I don’t think that’s possible while we live in a cold and damp place like this.”

“It is a badge of shame that we have not eradicated fuel poverty in 21st Scotland, especially when we know that children living in cold homes are twice as likely to have respiratory problems, and that at least one in 10 excess deaths each winter can be attributed to cold housing.

“Our Healthy Homes project is calling on professionals from across health, social care, housing and the energy sectors to join forces to look at innovative ways to tackle fuel poverty in Scotland, and prevent it from happening in the first place.

“Although frontline health and social care staff alone cannot rid Scotland of fuel poverty, we believe that through their reach, influence and training, as well as support from other sectors, they could hold the key to embarking on the challenge of eradicating fuel poverty from Scotland once and for all.”

In 2002 the Scottish Government committed to eradicating fuel poverty as far as is reasonably practical by November 2016. Shelter Scotland says this target will not be met.

As part of the Healthy Homes project Shelter Scotland has launched a training toolkit designed for frontline health and social care staff to help them identify and assess vulnerable households, recognise how to guide them out of fuel poverty by identifying savings and signposting national and local energy advice programmes. The training is particularly focused on frontline staff working with the top 10% of deprived households, parents of children aged five and under and homeless households in temporary accommodation.