Are fuel poverty reduction schemes associated with decreased excess winter mortality in elders? A case study from London, UK
The London Borough of Newham, London piloted the Warm Zone, a government-led fuel poverty reduction scheme. Fuel poverty is often cited as a factor in excess winter mortality (EWM) in the UK. This study reported in this paper assessed whether EWM decreased for people aged ≥65 years in Newham as compared to all London, employing data from before and throughout the duration of the Warm Zone project. The paper also discusses the difficulties surrounding the measurement and interpretation of health impact relating to fuel poverty. We calculated and compared the yearly EWM indices for people aged ≥65 years for all of London, and for Newham over 12 years (1993—2005). The yearly EWM ratio for Newham in relation to all London was then calculated and compared. No definitive evidence to support the effect of the War Zone on EMW were noted. Relationships between EWM and fewer poverty reduction schemes are difficult to interpret, as many factors are entangled. These include cold strain and biological, genetic, gender, physiological, thermoregulation, environmental, meteorological, socio-economic, healthcare provision/expenditure, lifestyle and co-morbidity aspects, besides the challenges of sample sizes and whether other fuel poverty reduction schemes were simultaneously in operation. Those in privately owned housing might be `masked' (underestimated) in their vulnerability to fuel poverty. Redefining the specific criteria for eligibility for fuel poverty grants and tackling heat inefficiency in privately owned homes not eligible for home heating improvement despite fulfilling other criteria for vulnerability requires attention. The implications are discussed.