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Housing

Over one third of homes set to face dangerous overheating – with poorest households hit hardest

Temperatures are set to rise as the climate crisis worsens and poorer Brits are the ones who will be feeling the heat in overheating homes

With sweaty heatwaves and temperatures over 40C set to become the new normal for Britain, a new study has found that over a third of homes across England are at high risk of dangerous overheating. 

The threat of overheating is not evenly spread, with new research from the Resolution Foundation suggesting the poorest fifth of households are three times more likely to be affected than the richest fifth. According to the think tank’s findings, urban flats, overcrowded properties and young renters are set to be hit hardest by rising temperatures

“The risks these higher temperatures bring will not impact all households and workers equally,” said Jonathan Marshall, senior economist at Resolution Foundation. “Lower-income households, renters, ethnic minority households, and families with young residents are most at risk, alongside people who work outdoors or in confined spaces, who are concerningly older than the average worker.

“Alongside their goal of reaching net zero without unfairly burdening lower-income households, policy makers must also ensure that people are protected from the dangers of climate change, including soaring summer temperatures.”

Escalating temperatures pose an enduring risk to vulnerable people, especially those with pre-existing health conditions. The risk of overheating poses serious danger of heat stroke or fatal heat exhaustion for those with cardiovascular and respiratory issues, plus additional risk of sleep disturbance and mental health problems. 

The youngest and oldest age groups are notably more at risk from temperature rises, as both are more likely to reside in housing which is unsuitable to deal with extreme temperatures. 

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Currently, only social housing is protected by a decent homes standard set by the government: the standard enforces a protective requirement for occupants, ensuring their home can shield them against extreme temperatures in both summer and winter. Private renters are not currently protected under this standard, but the upcoming Renters Reform Bill is set to introduce a decent homes standard for private renters.

Resolution Foundation said that significant investment from government and property owners will be required to protect low-income households against temperature threats. As well as contending against dangerously high temperatures in summer, occupants of poorly insulated homes have been historically hit by escalating heating bills, as well as the threat of mould-related health issues in winter. 

Without the confirmed protection of a decent homes standard, or guarantees against no-fault evictions, vulnerable occupants may find themselves without recourse against increasingly dangerous, climate-related living conditions.

Workplaces are also set to be hit by rising temperatures, meaning a much-needed break from an overheated home may not be available to a lot of working people, particularly those in lower earning brackets. 

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Those working in physical, outdoor or manufacturing roles will be hit hardest, with an estimated 23% of workers in these at-risk roles likely to face dangerous working conditions. Even office workers face escalated risk, as only 29% of London offices and 14% of offices in areas like Yorkshire enjoy working air conditioning.

The NHS recommends only opening your windows at night during periods of extreme heat, and to avoid excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeine. The use of electric fans is not recommended over 35C (and use should be limited anyway so as to not contribute to skyrocketing electric bills). A good alternative is a cold shower, or putting cool water on your skin or clothes.

Have you been overheating in your home during the summer heat? Let us know at letters@bigissue.com.

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