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Cost of living and climate crises putting Australians’ health at risk as temperatures rise

A new survey from Sweltering Cities has revealed the serious impact that this summer’s heat has had on Australians’ health. The 2024 Summer Survey received more than 2300 responses from people reporting their experience of heat over the summer.

Sweltering Cities Executive Director Emma Bacon said the survey showed that the rising cost of living had made it especially stressful for many respondents concerned about the cost of using their air conditioning.

“The survey responses make it clear that people’s health is suffering as temperatures rise and too many people don’t have the money or resources to be cool,” Ms Bacon said. “Almost two-thirds of people who have air con have told us that concerns about cost are stopping people from turning it on.

“Some of the people reporting significant impacts include renters in hot homes, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and people who say that the rising cost of living is impacting whether they can afford to stay cool. Ninety per cent of people with disabilities said they felt unwell on hot days or during heatwaves.”

Ms Bacon said the survey showed that to keep communities safe, governments need to address the root causes of vulnerability to increasing temperatures: housing, poverty, infrastructure, insecure work and of course, climate change.

“Band-aid solutions, or passing the responsibility of staying safe onto individuals, won’t work because more and more people will be feeling increasingly severe impacts as temperatures rise.

“What has been striking in the results this year is how serious the impact of extreme heat is on people with multiple risk factors. Specifically, we’re seeing that people who have disabilities or chronic illnesses, are renters or live in a low energy efficiency home are reporting significant mental and physical health impacts. 

“From sleeplessness and stress to incapacitating pain and hospitalisation, hundreds of people have reported heat health issues that should be shocking to decision makers.”

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Some key statistics include: 

  • 78% of people reported that they have air conditioning, but 65% of those people said that concerns about cost stop them turning it on.
  • 85% of people with a chronic illness and 90% of people with disability said that they feel unwell on hot days. 
  • 68% of people reported feeling unwell on hot days or during heatwaves. 
  • 61% of people say that cost of living increases have impacted their ability to stay cool on hot days. 
  • 54% of respondents who are renters said that they live in a low energy efficiency home. 
  • 75% of all respondents said that they have the information to keep themselves safe during heatwaves, but only 63% of people from multicultural communities. 
  • When we asked how people manage the heat, over 80% of people said that they either avoid walking or change when they do outdoor activities.

Image by freepik

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