The cost to life: how soaring living costs affect people’s health and wellbeing

The current cost of living is a public health emergency, potentially on the same scale as the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by Public Health Wales(PHW).

Increased living costs means many households are cutting back on essentials, with low income households most at risk. This leads to a fall in living standards that will affect people’s physical and mental health, and exacerbate existing conditions.

This article looks at the detrimental impact of increases in energy and food costs on people’s health and wellbeing, and what PHW and others say can be done to mitigate this.

What do people say about how the rising cost of living is affecting their health?

Research by the Royal College of Physicians found 60% of people in Wales feel their health has been negatively affected by cost of livingA ‘snap shot of poverty’ report by the Bevan Foundation in summer 2022 found many people are likely to experience negative impacts on their physical (30% of people) and mental health (43% of people). Some might find their finances starting to impede on their physical and mental health for the first time, others who may previously have been just about coping may now be pushed to the brink and could fall into crisis. The consequences for those already struggling with their finances are likely to be even more dire.

Cold houses can kill

Rising energy prices are pushing more people in Wales into fuel poverty (defined as spending more than 10% of household income to keep their house warm), and rural households are being hit particularly hard. Energy cost hikes are compounded by Welsh housing being some of the least energy efficient in Europe.

As Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer for Wales, said, “warm houses save lives”, and cold houses can kill. PHW found 30% of excess winter deaths in Wales are due to cold housing conditions, with 10% directly linked to fuel poverty.

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