The instability of the past couple of years – plus the health anxiety of COVID – has been a lot for us to deal with. Now, as we enter a winter defined by a cost-of-living crisis, there are many more challenges ahead. While the cost-of-living crisis is being viewed as an economic emergency, the impact it is likely to have on people’s health could make it a much broader crisis.
A big threat to our health
In a recent poll, 57% of people said that they felt the rising cost of living posed a threat to the health of UK citizens. What’s happening today comes against a backdrop of falling living standards that have seen times feel tough for a while. As a result, 72% of people said their overall health and well-being have fallen in the past year. Perhaps this isn’t surprising in the wake of the pandemic, but the worry now is that the cost of living crisis will worsen a very difficult situation for many people.
What is the cost of living crisis?
Most of us will be affected by the cost of living crisis but in different ways. One of the impacts that have been the most broadly felt is the rise in energy prices. Despite the energy cap and the support that has been given to UK households to help cover the cost of energy prices, times are still going to be very difficult in the coming months. The mini-budget announced in the Autumn by the government worsened the situation, triggering a very pessimistic economic outlook, nervous lenders and the potential for cuts to public services and social security to try and rectify the damage done. But it’s not just energy prices that are problematic for consumers today. Food prices have risen significantly – by 13% in August alone – and there are many other increases to bear, from a rise in interest rates on debt to the cost of fuel.
How is it likely to impact our health?
Lower-income families are the most at risk during the cost of living crisis because they have less financial flexibility. They are also the most at risk of poor health – 48% of the poorest 40% of UK families have at least one member in poor health. Cold homes pose a huge risk, from respiratory conditions to death (the World Health Organisation estimates a third of the higher numbers of deaths in winter are due to cold homes). Anxiety can also have a very palpable impact, not just on mental health but physical health too. From spiralling debt problems to not being able to put food on the table, the strain can lead to an increase in feelings of stress, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. People in problem debt are nearly three times more likely to have ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ health.
As the cost of living crisis worsens, it’s clear that people need more support to prevent the serious impact this could have on health and wellbeing.