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Heat waves and cold spells: an analysis of policy response and perceptions of vulnerable populations in the UK


Heat waves and cold spells pose ongoing seasonal risks to the health and well-being of vulnerable individuals. Current attempts to address these risks in the UK are implemented through fuel-poverty strategies and heat-wave planning. This paper examines evidence from the UK on whether heat waves and cold spells are addressed differently by public policy in the UK given that risks are mediated by similar perceptions that shape behavioural responses by vulnerable individuals. It is based on a review of UK policies and on a qualitative interview study of risk perceptions of elderly people as a primary identified vulnerable group to these weather extremes. The study involved in-depth repeat interviews with fifteen elderly respondents in summer 2007 and winter 2008 in Norwich (UK). Results suggest that neither heat risks nor cold risks are perceived as personal risks and therefore planned preventive measures by individuals are largely elusive. Cold risk policy reduces vulnerability; policy related to heat relies on early warning and public information programmes and does not reduce underlying vulnerability. Both types of policies largely ignore public perceptions of risks and could benefit from a more cohesive approach, supporting similar measures to reduce seasonal vulnerability.