Are London Health & Wellbeing Boards taking fuel poverty seriously?

July 2013:  The Health and Social care Act 2012 established new Health and Wellbeing Boards for each top tier and unitary authority. These operated in ‘shadow form’ over the period 2012-13 taking on full  statutory functions from April 2013.  The boards have strategic influence over commissioning decisions across health, public health and social care and a new Age UK report has conducted research to “determine whether the newly formed Health and Wellbeing Boards in England are taking fuel poverty as seriously as is needed.”

The  report sets out that : “Every available Health and Wellbeing Strategy published before March 2013 was looked at to determine the influence of fuel poverty on the priorities set by each Health and Wellbeing board. The results are based on the 122 Health and Wellbeing Strategies that were available, and show that

  • More than half of the Health and Wellbeing Boards appear to be side-lining issues surrounding fuel poverty altogether.
  • Only 4% seem to be doing as much as possible to help combat fuel poverty within their local community.
  • Some Boards consider fuel poverty in their community to be decreasing. This could be because they are using figures from 2010, an unusual year when (against the trend) the number of fuel poor households decreased, and before the subsequent round of high fuel price increases. These figures are now outdated and incorrect.”

Each Health and Wellbeing Strategy available was given a rating of between 1 and 5 (indicating poor to excellent respectively).  Of the five example strategies examined and given the worst rating (1), two London local authorities are highlighted – Ealing and Waltham Forest. Worryingly, page 6 of the report sets out the 122 strategies examined, a further 12 London boroughs are rated (1): Barnet, Brent, Bromley, Camden, Hackney, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Lewisham, Merton, Newham.

The City of London, Croydon, Greenwich, Haringey, Harrow, Kingston, Sutton, Westminster are rated (2). Havering and Wandsworth are rated (3). A few boroughs appear to have been omitted from the table on page 6 – but are referenced in the Appendix on page 19. Barking and Dagenham actually scores the highest with a (4), Redbrige a (3), Richmond (2), and Tower Hamlets (1). Strategies for Bexley, Enfield, Hammersmith & Fulham and Lambeth were not available to the survey team. Page 19 also mentions that Southwark’s stategy could not be found.

The results are highly surprising, rating some London local authorities which have significant fuel poverty programmes in place very low (Islington being the most obvious – with its award-winning SHINE programme – which is now also being utilised by Hackney), suggesting that the consultation process that took place to establish these strategies failed to engage properly with relevant officers delivering such services. The Mayor has recently responded to some questions to him regarding his role in raising energy issues to the new Health and Wellbeing Boards – highlighting some recent work undertaken by the London Climate Change Partnership and stating that further guidance ‘bespoke environmental guidance for the 33 health and wellbeing boards in London is curently being drafted (see here and here).  Details of the new London Health Board, also critical to this discussion, can be seen in an earlier post here.

National Energy Action (NEA) held an excellent event earlier this year in Southwark – Achieving public health outcomes on fuel poverty and excess winter deaths – which looked at how health management is being devolved to local authorities and how fuel poverty needs to be integrated in these new strategies. Presentations from the seminar are available here.

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