Managing Warmth for Mental Wellbeing: Under consumption and Vulnerability

Managing Warmth for Mental Wellbeing: Under consumption and Vulnerability


Graeme Sherriff

Organisation of Presenter:

University of Salford, United Kingdom


Fuel poverty is an important issue relating to energy consumption and energy efficiency that can deapen social inequality and have adverse health implications. The problem of living in cold and damp homes is particularly pronounced amongst those who are unemployed, disabled, retired, on low incomes, or suffering from physical and mental illness. The poor are disproportionately likely to live in energy-inefficient homes and therefore have to purchase what has been referred to as ‘expensive warmth’ (Boardman 2012).
This paper reports on research carried out in Stoke-on-Trent, UK, working with the organisations Beat the Cold and Changes Health and Wellbeing to understand the impact of their innovative project Changes4Warmth on mental health service users experiencing fuel poverty. Changes4Warmth involves working closely with the Changes network over three years to establish energy efficiency advice as one of its core activities, to build supportive relationships between service users and energy advisers, and to deliver home visits. The home visits include not only advice and support on energy matters but also help with phoning utility companies to find optimal tariffs and secure the discounts to which they are entitled.
The research reaffirms the relationship between fuel poverty and mental health. Cold homes can worsen physical and mental wellbeing and the experience of managing household bills can cause stress and in turn worsen mental health. Conversely, mental health conditions such as stress and anxiety make it more difficult to keep on top of household finances and can make people reluctant to use their heating system to its potential, making it more difficult to achieve affordable warmth. The research finds that the Change4Warmth approach to advice and support helps service users to lower fuel bills by taking advantage of financial support and adopting energy efficient practices. It demonstrates the importance of ongoing support on these issues for mental health service users that responds to specific symptoms and can be flexible enough to respond to the often fluctuating nature of mental health. It also suggests a need to problematize the cautious ‘under consumption’ of vulnerable consumers alongside the supposed profligate consumption of the general population.