The Guardian: LONDON, England – Cold homes will damage children’s lungs and brain development and lead to deaths as part of a “significant humanitarian crisis” this winter, health experts have warned.
Unless the next prime minister curbs soaring fuel bills, children face a wave of respiratory illness with long-term consequences, according to a review by Sir Michael Marmot, the director of University College London’s Institute of Health Equity, and Prof Ian Sinha, a respiratory consultant at Liverpool’s Alder Hey children’s hospital.
Sinha said he had “no doubt” that cold homes would cost children’s lives this winter, although they could not predict how many, with damage done to young lungs leading to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and bronchitis for others in adulthood.
It comes as the Resolution Foundation thinktank predicts Britain is facing the deepest living standards squeeze in a century, with a typical household losing £3,000 in real-terms income over two years, inflation hitting 15% for the poorest households, and the cost of living crisis lasting into 2024.
It forecasts 3 million more people will be living in absolute poverty, and relative child poverty will hit its highest level since the peaks of the 1990s, in a “frankly terrifying” outlook for living standards.
Huge numbers of cash-strapped households are preparing to turn heating systems down or off when the energy price cap increases to £3,549 from 1 October, and the president of the British Paediatric Respiratory Society, also told the Guardian that child deaths were likely.
“There will be excess deaths among some children where families are forced into not being able to heat their homes,” said Dr Simon Langton-Hewer. “It will be dangerous, I’m afraid.”
In the UK, 45 million people are forecast to face fuel poverty by January 2023, and Marmot and Sinha said “millions of children’s development will be blighted” with lung damage, “toxic stress” that will affect brain development, and deepening educational inequalities as children struggle to keep up with school work in freezing homes. Across all age groups, the cold crisis will cost thousands of lives, they warned.
“It’s simply insupportable in Britain in the 21st century to have so many people that are fuel insecure,” said Marmot, one of the world’s leading experts on public health inequalities. “The government needs to act, and act right now. It’s clear we are facing a significant humanitarian crisis with thousands losing their lives and millions of children’s development blighted, leading to inequalities that will last a lifetime.”
Sinha warned worried parents against wrapping up infants in multiple layers as this can restrict breathing, and said sleeping in the same bed to share bodily warmth could increase the likelihood of cot death. He recommended using winter-weight babygrows, and contacting landlords and health professionals for help if parents are concerned.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2022/08/fuel-poverty-map/giv-6562MbX3Xh3Afoe1/
Families already facing fuel poverty told the Guardian how children as young as four have been hospitalised with respiratory illness because of cold and damp. One mother said a doctor found her eight-year-old son’s chronic lung congestion was depleting his brain’s oxygen supply.
“Mould climbing the walls and wrecking cots, and children being hospitalised because of poor housing may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but this is reality for a worrying number of families,” said Polly Neate, the chief executive of the housing charity Shelter.
Top Feature Photo: The energy price cap will rise to £3,549 from 1 October = ljubaphoto/Getty Images