The new prime minister must step up to tackle fuel poverty before more lives are lost
Trying to keep warm as fuel bills rocket. (Michael Heath / Alamy)
The news reports out today about the swathes of families in the UK likely to fall into fuel poverty this winter are frightening.
Both as a director at a lung health charity and as a parent, it is clear to me that the government must act urgently to protect children and their families from the life-threatening effects of skyrocketing fuel costs.
At Asthma + Lung UK we’re hearing worrying reports that people are being forced to cut back on buying their life-saving medication, as people are faced with the impossible choice of paying for their medication or putting food on the table.
The situation is desperate, and we fear that soon people will be priced out of breathing
We’ve already seen calls to our helpline and webpages offering advice on financial support and benefits increase as people start to feel the bite of the cost of living crisis. And this is before the crunch of trying to heat homes through the winter has been felt by families.
We know winter is the most dangerous season for people with lung conditions, as breathing in cold air irritates airways, making the lungs become tighter and breathing more difficult.
The cold is also a common trigger that can lead to life-threatening lung flare-ups and asthma attacks, which can leave people fighting for breath.
People should feel safe in their own homes. But having a cold home also means those with lung conditions are at a higher risk of getting a lung infection. Cold and flu viruses thrive in colder temperatures and environments, which are poorly ventilated and damp. We also know being exposed over long periods of time to cold and mould also affects the immune system, reducing our ability to fight off lung infections.
The situation is desperate, and we fear that soon people will be priced out of breathing. What is needed is action. Action from our government.
I’m calling on the new prime minister, due to enter No 10 next week, to provide targeted financial support to people with lung conditions and on low incomes. This should include full reimbursement for all electricity costs linked to life-saving medical devices such as nebulisers and home oxygen therapy, as well as free prescription charges for those with lung conditions.
For too long the nation’s lungs have been a clear victim of poverty and health inequality. We must take steps to change this, before thousands more lives are put at risk.
If you or your family are concerned about managing your lung condition, you can give the Asthma + Lung UK helpline a call on 0300 222 5800 or get information from our website at asthma.org.uk/advice/inhalers-medicines-treatments.
Henry Gregg is director of policy and external affairs at Asthma + Lung UK.
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