Frontline health practitioners should be helping people struggling with energy costs by connecting them with support services, according to new research report from the Victorian Council of Social Service.
The report, Battling On, has identified a strong link between people’s health (including mental health challenges), energy consumption and energy hardship.
“Living in cold, damp or sweltering homes can make you sick, or even kill you,” VCOSS CEO Emma King said.
“And existing health challenges can drive-up your energy use.”
“Yet, Australian doctors don’t currently receive any guidance on how to talk with patients about energy issues.”
Ms King said the research found people in persistent energy hardship are much more likely to have health challenges and be frequent visitors to the doctor.
“This means the healthcare sector could be a great ally in providing guidance and support to people battling to afford adequate energy, by alerting patients to things like energy concessions, subsidies and support services.”
The proposed scheme could include doctors, maternal healthcare and district nurses.
UK authorities already advise medical professionals on how to identify people experiencing energy hardship and connect them with support services.
More broadly, Battling On analysed HILDA data with the assistance of RMIT University to better understand two groups of energy users; (i) those in an ongoing battle to pay their energy bills and (ii) those who consistently struggle to heat their homes in winter
In total, the report estimates 180,000 Victorian households (7.3%) experience persistent payment difficulty and the 45,000 households (1.8%) persistently struggling to stay warm.
These figures are broadly representative of the whole of Australia, indicating a widespread problem requiring both local and national policy responses.
A number of common themes emerged regarding these two groups:
- HEALTH. 60% of households with persistent heating inability include at least one person with a long-term health condition or disability.
- MONEY. About 50% of households with persistent heating inability are on the bottom rung of income earners.
- KIDS. Most households in persistent payment difficulty (59%) have children.
- RENTING. Renters are much more likely to face persistent energy hardship than homeowners.
The report—to be released later today—urges a number of policy responses to ease the burden of energy costs for people doing it tough, including measures to:
- DELIVER energy support through health services
- DEVELOP a specific ‘Energy for Health’ concession
- RAISE income support payments and better support low wage-earners
- EXPAND financial counselling and energy brokerage services
- MAKE rental housing liveable and affordable to run
- BRING fairness to energy pricing.
Council of Single Mothers And Their Children CEO Jenny Davidson said policy settings needed to change.
“We know that limiting heating and delaying bill paying are some of the compromises that single mothers make to keep food on the table and cover urgent costs.”
“Now we have the data to drive equitable policy development.”