Fuel Poverty: How Children are Affected

The comfort of a warm home is something that many of us take for granted. Yet for millions of people across the UK, living in a cold property is the norm. When families can’t afford to pay the heating bills, it can have a dire impact on their physical and mental wellbeing. And for children, it’s no different.

According to the government’s latest fuel poverty report, almost 20% of all households with children are living in fuel poverty. It’s a shocking statistic that most people aren’t aware of, and it needs to change. For children living in underheated homes, the effects can be devastating and long-lasting. What exactly are they?

Health problems
Living in cold housing can result in a number of health problems. According to a report from the Association for the Conservation of Energy, children living in underheated homes are more than twice as likely to have breathing problems than those who don’t. Fuel poor homes are also prone to damp, condensation and mould, which can exacerbate issues. In fact, children exposed to these conditions are three times more likely to experience coughing, wheezing and respiratory problems like asthma.

Other unpleasant consequences of living in cold homes include circulatory diseases, eczema, allergies, and long-term health effects and disability. It also aggravates existing health problems like arthritis, as well as increasing the likelihood of getting common colds and the flu.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that children who grow up in inadequately heated houses are more likely to experience long-term health effects and have more sick days from school than the average child.

The inability to afford heating can have a knock-on effect on the nutrition of tenants. A family might end up spending less money on food so that they can afford to heat their home, which may lead to children becoming malnourished if they’re not eating enough. On the flipside, cold homes can also cause obesity in children if they’re eating a lot of processed, typically cheap foods. This can lead to a variety of health issues, which may continue into adulthood.

School performance
Living in a cold home may influence a child’s performance at school. Frequent sick days, e.g. because of common colds or increased hospital visits due to asthma, mean that children miss out on valuable learning time. A study by Barnes, Butt, and Tomaszewski on “The Impact of Bad Housing on the Living Standards of Children” also found that cold housing can prevent homework from being completed. This may be the case when a family can only afford to heat one part of the home, meaning that children have no quiet place to do their work (as all residents congregate in the heated area).

In the long-run, this can negatively impact career prospects and future opportunities, as well as isolate children from their peers. The negative effects of fuel poverty on weight gain may also manifest at school; children who are not eating enough at home due to the ‘heat or eat’ problem may have difficulty concentrating, while those who are overweight may experience self-esteem issues and/or bullying.

Mental health
Fuel poverty has also been shown to lead to poor mental health. Research carried out by Shelter indicates that unsatisfactory housing conditions, including underheating, increases the likelihood of children struggling with mental health issues like anxiety and depression. To support this, Barnes, Butt, and Tomaszewski’s study revealed that more than 1 in 4 young people living in cold homes are at risk of four or more mental health symptoms. Other research has found that unsatisfactory housing conditions are correlated with feelings of helplessness in children, which in turn affects their motivation levels.

As you can see, children who live in fuel poverty are vulnerable to a range of health and wellbeing issues. The consequences of cold housing have the potential to shape these children’s lives, increasing the risk of them living in fuel poverty when they’re adults.

Thankfully, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: housing associations can use IoT technology to break the cycle. Devices like Invisible Systems IoT sensors collect data about conditions inside of the home, including damp, condensation, mould and energy usage. Once landlords have placed these sensors inside of their buildings, they’ll have a comprehensive overview of the conditions across all of their estates in one centralized online dashboard, Real-Time Online.

Ultimately, this gives landlords the ability to identify which families might be living in fuel poverty and take the necessary steps to enhance their quality of living. This could be through preventative action, such as improving ventilation in areas of high humidity before mould growth takes place, or addressing existing issues, like helping a family whose home is often underheated during winter months.

Another benefit of IoT wireless sensors is that they are non-intrusive. Data is collected and viewed remotely, so the privacy of residents is maintained. This is particularly valuable when identifying fuel poverty in families with children, who may badly need support but are hesitant to ask for it.

Utilising smart IoT solutions is the most effective way to tackle fuel poverty and it’s damaging effects on children. Invisible Systems IoT sensors offer housing associations a solution to the challenge, allowing them to make a positive impact on the lives of millions of young people across the country.

Find out how Invisible Systems can help you make a difference and arrange an appointment with our team today.

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