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Housing, fuel poverty and health: a pan-European analysis


The principal aim of this book is to examine the relationship between domestic energy efficiency, fuel poverty and related health impacts using a comparative study framework. This study tests a number of principal hypotheses using European data. First, fuel poverty and poor domestic energy inefficiency is examined to assess its relationship with impaired health status. The second hypothesis asserts that fuel poverty and poor domestic energy inefficiency is strongly associated with high levels of excess winter mortality. The third hypothesis argues that a ‘Consensual’ approach to calculating fuel poverty results in more conservative, but more reliable, estimates than the standard definition. The fourth hypothesis examines whether the fuel-poor exhibit higher risk factors associated with poor health than others. The book then turns to issues of thermal comfort and examines whether the fuel-poor endure reduced thermal comfort in the home and lower ambient household temperatures. The final key hypothesis concerns the relationship between fuel poverty and excess winter deaths. In the final data analysis chapter, seasonal variations in mortality are examined against a wide range of social and economic factors, not just fuel poverty and inadequately insulated homes, to identify causality. The book also pays particular attention to the case of Ireland, a country known to suffer from high levels of fuel poverty. Some additional hypotheses are tested in this respect. First, a hypothesis is tested that domestic thermal- (energy-) efficiency standards in Ireland are among the poorest in Europe. The book also examines whether Ireland exhibits the poorest housing conditions and the highest levels of housing deprivation, unaffordable housing and dissatisfaction with housing in the EU. A third hypothesis relates to whether fuel poverty in Ireland is among the highest in Europe. The study also focuses on health impacts by testing formally the notion that health impairment associated with fuel poverty in Ireland is among the highest Europe; the Irish level of excess winter mortality is also regressed formally to identify key risk factors. Finally, it is hypothesised that the information gap is the main reason for market failure in Irish domestic energy efficiency. The work is made up of two major methodological components: an analysis of a national household survey of Ireland conducted in 2001, and an analysis of longitudinal datasets from the European Community Household Panel (ECHP) and other data obtained chiefly through the United Nations and the World Bank. More precisely, the main components of this book are as listed below. The book begins in Chapter 2 with a comparative assessment of housing conditions, thermal-efficiency standards, housing deprivation, housing affordability and housing dissatisfaction in EU-14. Cross-country levels of fuel poverty in EU-14 are quantified using a new composite measure based on longitudinal social indicators in what can be termed a ‘Consensual’ approach to calculating fuel poverty; a full chapter is dedicated to describing this approach and the results. The health impacts of fuel poverty in EU-14 are then examined empirically in a number of chapters. Levels of income poverty and income inequality in EU-14, as well as incidences of multiple deprivation, are then quantified. Seasonal variations in mortality in EU-14 are calculated. The risk factors associated with seasonal variations in mortality across EU-14 are then identified formally using Poisson regression analysis. The study also examines empirically the main reasons for non-adoption of energy-saving measures using Ireland as a case study. As mentioned, a large section of the book examines empirically, and in detail, the health outcomes associated with fuel poverty. In this regard, an investigation is undertaken in order to determine whether fuel-poor households demonstrate higher risk factors than other households. Furthermore, the current ambient temperatures of housing are measured using an Irish sample. Thermal comfort among the fuel-poor and others is compared using new empirical data. In addition, adverse occupancy issues relating to fuel poverty are also investigated. The study is highly policy relevant and, for this reason, a large policy chapter is included in the book which outlines a number of major policy implications of the study. International policy experience in this field is examined, and a number of ex post exemplars are highlighted. The key economic (and other) instruments available to policymakers to internalise a number of externalities is then outlined briefly. Policy recommendations are proffered at the chapter’s close.