Building resilience: Climate Change, Homes, Health and Culture

Trude Silman
Trude Silman, Member of the Leeds Older People's Forum

Written by Trude Silman, member of the Leeds Older People's Forum

I am in my 80s and have not written a blog before but have been moved to do so after attending the conference, "Climate Resilience in Health and Social Care", convened by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in Leeds following the publication of their recent research report (opens new window). All the speakers were of the highest calibre and the presentations most interesting even if rather depressing.

My personal interest is the effect of overheating on health, especially on the elderly, the very young and the disabled, who spend most of the time in their homes. In my view, there are so many aspects of climate change to consider and to date not enough is being done to prevent a catastrophe in the not too distant future. Hopefully, there will be a change of attitude leading to an acceleration of the work needed to halt or at least greatly reduce the CO2 emissions, which cause this global damage.

The effects of increased temperature are already evident in the UK. The most vulnerable in society are now showing increased mortality even in the English summer due to continued overheating in their refurbished or newly built homes. A complete change in the design and building of all new and refurbished properties as well as the built environment is required urgently. For example, the present old housing stock with its cold, damp conditions and the new builds without cooling systems giving rise to overheating are all detrimental to health. In addition, all of these situations contribute to increases in expenditure for the National Health Service as well as the Social Services. I therefore believe that if we can build greater resilience to the impact of climate change there would be substantial savings to the exchequer were the parameters for health considered when constructing buildings.

Indeed, it is a fact that overheated buildings gives rise to an unhealthy environment for the occupants. All people should be provided with a comfortable living space where the temperature, humidity and ventilation are regulated by law to the ranges compatible with comfort and health of human beings in the UK. The ranges of these values urgently need to be determined by physiologists and clinical/medical researchers and not just be chosen randomly by the builders.

To date regulations of temperature in buildings only apply in the workplace and not to the people living in sheltered housing, care homes, hospitals, nursing homes and tenants in private and social housing. Wealthy homeowners and many hotels now install air-conditioning to keep themselves and their clientele comfortable.

The criteria of affordability, carbon neutrality and other environmental issues also have to be considered. However, the buildings where people live must be of a standard, which does not produce ill health.

A recent Housing LIN practice briefing by the new NHS Alliance (opens new window) has also highlighted that it is essential to remove existing barriers that impact on the health of people such as cold homes, fuel poverty and more recently overheating of buildings. New housing to be built and old housing stock will need to be altered to comply with the projected new standards for "healthy housing".

Parliament needs to pass the appropriate law/s to assure the best possible conditions for the health of its people as soon as possible. To that end, commissioners, planners, architects, builders and inspectors should ensure that the ventilation, heating and cooling systems in buildings are installed to the legal standards and that they will be able to be controlled by the resident in every individual property.

From my personal experience, the medical profession - especially many doctors in general practice - are not aware of the deleterious effect of overheating on the human body, which can range from mild to severe and even fatal. It is therefore important to provide training for them so as to be able to recognise the possible effect of heat, make the correct diagnosis and provide the right treatment.

Some aspects of present day management culture also need to change, as - again, in my experience - the accepted practice is not to consult old people and rarely listen to their suggestions. There is a saying much used by older people today, "No decisions for US without US". They have the experience as well as the wisdom of old age! As the Housing LIN's Jeremy Porteus has rightly set out in his blog, we need to a 'new age' of co-production or what he coins, "CollobarAGE". (opens new window)

And finally, with the good will of government and more research I firmly hope that the deleterious effects of climate change can be reversed and so prevent the predicted catastrophe.

Published on Monday, 8 August 2016 by the Housing LIN

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