Future-proofing society

Climate crisis threatens UK health equality

The impact of climate change will be felt differently across the UK and could exacerbate health inequalities in physical and mental health

14 Nov 2022

We’ve published a report: The Effects of Climate Change on Health in the UK, in collaboration with the Longevity Science Panel demonstrating that the poorest and most vulnerable people will be most impacted by extreme weather.

The potential adverse effects of climate change would be experienced unevenly across different sections of the UK population, deepening the existing health inequalities.  The risks are greatest for those already most vulnerable to poor health, particularly those that rely on others for care such as children, the elderly, and those with disabilities and pre-existing conditions.

Dame Karen Dunnell

Chair of the Longevity Science Panel

Progressive policy for future equality

Our research shows that greater focus is needed on climate policy development to protect vulnerable people from indirect health implications of climate change. For example, mental health challenges arising from displacement after a flood may cause those impacted to reach out to public health services.

The need for the costliest mitigations and adaptations related to climate change are concentrated in the most deprived areas whose residents are the least able to afford them.  These need to be considered in public policies.

Dame Karen Dunnell

Chair of the Longevity Science Panel

Additional implications that should be considered by policymakers include:
  • Socio-economic: in times of economic uncertainty, the health of the most disadvantaged is disproportionately impacted
  • Food security: climate related disruptions to global food production and supply chains will reduce food security, particularly for low-income families
  • Insecure housing: lower socio-economic households are more likely to be exposed to the damage caused by extreme weather events as poverty tends to force people to live in higher risk areas, but often lacking the disposable income to adequately prepare for the hazards associated with climate change
  • Poor quality homes: the build quality of lower income and private rental homes can make them more vulnerable to severe damage during adverse weather events
  • Gender inequalities: women are likely to be impacted more by climate effects than men. They are more often the primary caregivers, and these responsibilities can be considered an additional source of stress in times of adversity, particularly when people in their care are threatened directly by displacement or food insecurity
  • Age inequalities: the very young and the elderly are disproportionately affected by climate change compared to working age adults. This is due to differences in physiology, impacts on education, development, exposure, vulnerability to illness, lack of social support, declining health, and disruption to daily activities

Looking ahead, reaching net zero depends on emerging technology and systemic change, as well as continued public support for measures that threaten jobs, economic growth, and established ways of living.

We have recently formed a partnership with leading epidemiologist Professor Sir Michael Marmot to tackle health inequalities. We have been working with Sir Michael and his team at UCL to identify how business leaders might positively impact health outcomes and make good health available to all.

Collaboration between academics, business, Government, and communities will be needed to meet these challenges on health inequality.

There is overwhelming evidence that man-made changes in the climate are having an impact on the natural environment and on human populations. The question is what are going to be the effects on health? In the UK, although warmer winters may reduce levels of cold-related deaths, heat waves will bring other problems.

Professor David Leon

Professor of Epidemiology

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine