Climate change is increasing the number of days where we experience temperature extremes and cold weather will remain a significant public health threat into the future. The UK government has a range of national and local schemes that support households to pay their fuel bills in the winter to keep their homes warm and maintain their health and wellbeing. The successful candidate for this PhD studentship will undertake a programme of research to explore the effects of these schemes on the health of communities in winter. They will explore the impact of cold weather on the health of the UK population, characterise community-level factors that increase vulnerability and investigate how these support schemes impact health differently across communities. We anticipate the findings of this research will be informative to local and national bodies developing policies to support vulnerable populations’ resilience and preparedness to climate change.
The UK population experiences worse health in the winter, with over 30% more deaths than the non-winter months. The people most at risk are the very young, very elderly, those with co-morbidities, lower incomes and those living in the eastern regions in England. The UKHSA advise people over the age of 65 or with medical conditions, to try and heat their home to at least 18°C. But there are over 3 million (13.2%) households in England that cannot afford to keep their homes properly heated. Therefore, the government offers financial support schemes designed to assist households to meet their energy bills. These include the Energy Bill Support Scheme and schemes targeted to vulnerable groups; older adults (Winter Fuel Payments), those living in colder areas (Cold Weather Payment) and those on low incomes (Household Support Fund, Cost of Living Payment; Warm Home Discount Scheme). These schemes are estimated to cost over £5 billion annually (excluding Energy Bill Support).
The student will use information about the health of the population over the previous 25 years, from routine data sources, and apply advanced statistical techniques to explore how cold temperatures have affected community health (e.g. hospital admissions, deaths) and the factors that are associated with vulnerability to cold weather (e.g. social-economic, demographic, spatial). They will explore the impact of the various support schemes, how they may have changed short- and long-term health outcomes, and whether they impact differently on communities with different characteristics. The student will also map the UK government schemes to support people with their fuel bills and undertake a scoping review of the associations between cold weather, cost-of-living crisis, fiscal schemes, cold weather alerts and health and wellbeing.
The studentship will be hosted between the School of Public Health and the Business School at Imperial College London and in collaboration with the Extreme Events team at the UK Health Security Agency. The studentship holder will have the opportunity to visit UKHSA to strengthen their understanding of the UK public health system.
This project addresses a crucial gap in our understanding of the health impacts of cold weather, fuel poverty and the cost-of-living crisis, and the benefits of government interventions aimed at protecting vulnerable populations. It has potential impacts at various levels of government and public service provision in informing policies to improve societal resilience to climate change whilst supporting the needs of the most vulnerable members of society.
Link can be found here: PhD studentship with the LISS DTP – MRC Centre (environment-health.ac.uk)