10 August 2023

Cultural shift needed on heatwave action warns British Red Cross, as more than a third still don’t consider heatwaves an immediate risk 

  • Polling by charity shows over a third (37 per cent) think heatwaves will only be a problem for the UK in the future  
  • Over a third of people vulnerable to heat – including over 75s (35 per cent), people who work outdoors (34 per cent), or live in top-floor flats (33 per cent) – still don’t consider themselves to be part of a vulnerable group 
  • A third of UK adults (33 per cent) say they have never seen information on how to protect themselves during a heatwave 
  • More than half (56 per cent) have considered making changes to their home to reduce overheating but have held back, often due to financial pressures or not owning their property  
  • More than a third (39 per cent) say the UK government is unprepared if a heatwave occurs  

Financial pressures, confusion and a lack of information are preventing people from taking effective action to deal with heatwaves, according to new research by the British Red Cross.  

As extreme heatwaves sweep Europe, the British Red Cross is calling on the UK government to start a ‘cultural shift’ in behaviour, so that people can protect themselves and others. Specifically, it is calling for information to help those most vulnerable to heat risk, and more support to enable those most at risk to adapt their homes.  

The survey of 2,000 UK adults showed an increase in the number of people concerned about the impact heatwaves could have on them, from 51 per cent in 2021 to 62 per cent. However, over a third (37 per cent) still think heatwaves will be a problem in the UK in the future, not now.  

The polling found that a significant proportion of people remain confused by heatwave advice. A third have not seen information about how to protect themselves in a heatwave and half of UK adults think they should keep windows open in severe hot weather, instead of following official advice to close and shade windows until temperatures cool down.  

There is also a perception gap amongst those most at risk, with around of third of people in some vulnerable groups not seeing themselves as such (35 per cent of over 75s, 34 per cent of people who work outdoors and 33 per cent of people who live in top-floor flats).

More than half of people (56 per cent) have considered adapting their home to reduce over-heating, but almost a third (31 per cent) say they have not done so because of the cost, and around a quarter of people (22 per cent) cited not owning their property as the reason they had not been able to make changes.  Around a third (36 per cent) had made changes including installing thermal blinds or insulation.

British Red Cross climate policy advisor Adeline Siffert said: 

“More people than ever accept the link between climate change and heatwaves and are concerned about their impact here in the UK. We now need a cultural shift to translate concern into action. National and local government should support changes in our homes and communities, so people remain safe despite the changing climate.

“Rising temperatures are putting more people at risk here in the UK, yet despite this we are lagging behind other countries which are more prepared to respond to hot summers. 

“We need to get the message out there about who is at risk in hot weather and how they can stay safe. There are simple practical steps that can help people vulnerable to heat risk. We need to adapt, and we need to do this now.

The British Red Cross is calling for greater urgency at all levels of government to ensure people are better prepared for heatwaves.

Siffert continued:

“Last year’s heatwave should act as an alarm call for the future. Higher temperatures affect everything from travel, infrastructure to the NHS, and increase the number of excess deaths. There is growing evidence of economic impacts too. With more hot summers predicted, we must act now to keep people safe and save lives.

The charity is calling for:

Action on awareness, preparedness and adaptation to heatwaves which prioritises those most at risk – for example people who are socially isolated, over 75, those with existing health conditions and refugees and migrants.

Work with people in vulnerable groups to help them understand the risks

Support for people most at risk to access simple and effective home adaptations, including financial support where needed.

More access to green and cool public spaces, especially in urban areas.


Notes to editors 

About the British Red Cross 

For over 150 years, the British Red Cross has helped people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. With millions of volunteers across 192 countries, the British Red Cross is part of an international humanitarian Movement that’s there for people before, during and after a crisis. Together, we are the world’s emergency responders.

Heatwave polling 

The charity first ran their heatwave poll in 2021 [for their Feeling the Heat report] and reran a number of the same questions around the same time of year in 2023, to monitor how attitudes and actions are changing in the UK.

The British Red Cross commissioned Opinium to conduct a 10-minute online survey among 2,000 UK adults from 20 - 23 June 2023. Data were weighted to be nationally representative of UK adults by age, gender, region, and social grade. Data were compared to findings from our original online survey of 2,000 UK adults carried out from 11th to 15th June 2021, also by Opinium.   
Key findings of the survey:

  • 62 per cent were concerned about the impact heatwaves could have on them
  • 37 per cent think heatwaves will be a problem in the UK in the future, not now
  • Around a third of people vulnerable to heat still don’t consider themselves at risk: 

- People working outdoors 30+ hours a week (34 per cent) 
People living in top floor flats (33 per cent)
- People aged 75+ (35 per cent)

Those in this age group are more aware now than they were in 2021 when over half did not consider themselves vulnerable (57 per cent)

  • 33 per cent of UK adults have never seen information on how to protect themselves during a heatwave
  • 56 per cent have considered making changes to their home to reduce overheating but were held back due to financial pressures or not owning the property
  • 39 per cent say the government is unprepared if a heatwave occurs

People are struggling to find spaces to cool down in or to make changes to their homes:

  • 29 per cent say they do not have access to cool spaces such as parks near where they live
  • 43 per cent would like to see more public buildings such as schools and community centres offering a cool space for people
  • 56 per cent have considered making changes to their home but have not gone ahead. The most common barriers include:

- being unable to afford it (31 per cent)
having other financial priorities (22 per cent)
not owning their home (22 per cent)
not being concerned enough (22 per cent).

See the full policy briefing paper with polling results

The British Red Cross has advice on how to stay cool in hot weather and first aid for heat exhaustion and heatstroke. There is guidance on coping with extreme heat in the UK, which is available in eight languages. There are also resources for schools to help 10-16 year olds to prepare for extreme heat.

Hot weather advice:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Limit physical activity to cooler parts of the day, such as morning or evening
  • Wear sunscreen and take regular breaks indoors or in a shaded place to cool down
  • Keep homes and workplaces cool (open windows when the air outside is cooler than the air inside – so mornings and evenings)
  • taking a cool bath or shower if you feel too hot
  • Wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting clothes

First aid advice:

  • Dehydration – you may be dizzy, confused, have darker urine and a headache. Drink plenty of water.
  • Heat exhaustion - similar symptoms to dehydration, plus nausea, cramps, fast breathing, and sweaty clammy skin. Get the person somewhere cool, give them a drink, sports/isotonic drinks can help. Even if they recover, seek medical advice. If they get worse call 999.
  • Heat stroke - similar symptoms to heat exhaustion but the skin is hot and dry. The person’s body temperature can reach over 40C, and they may become unresponsive. Call 999. Pour cold water over clothes or a sheet to help reduce their temperature.
  • Sunburn – get out of the sun, cool the area with cold water or cool bath for around 20 minutes. Sip cold water.

People who are more vulnerable to heat risk include:

  • Older people (over 75)
  • Babies and young children, and pregnant women
  • People with underlying heath conditions or limited mobility
  • People with drug or alcohol addiction, or who are street homeless
  • People who work outdoors
  • People in top floor flats
  • Refugees and migrants

For further information 

Contact: Katy Taylor-Gooby on ktaylor-gooby@redcross.org.uk or 07912 565470 

Or Sara Neville on saraneville@redcross.org.uk  or 07946 431291 

press@redcross.org.uk0207 877 7557