29 July 2021

Heatwaves perception gap putting UK lives at risk

Press release
For immediate release 27 July 2021
For further information press@redcross.org.uk, 02078777299 / 07710 391 703
Interviews available on request.
Report: https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/feeling-the-heat-a-british-red-cross-briefing-on-heatwaves-in-the-uk 
Spokespeople available

Heatwaves perception gap is putting UK lives at risk, warns British Red Cross

  • A quarter believe UK isn’t hot enough to be at risk from heatwaves, despite a record 2,556 excess deaths in England alone last summer
  • Heat-related deaths in the UK could triple in the next 30 years, to around 7,000 annually.  
  • 75+ year olds are particularly unaware of their risk level according to new research, with over half (57 per cent) saying they do not consider themselves as vulnerable to the impact of heatwaves, despite being at significantly higher risk. 
  • 40 per cent say they have never seen information on how to protect themselves during a heatwave.
  • The Met Office issued its first ever extreme heat warning for the UK last week, shining a spotlight on the dangers of rising temperatures.  
  • British Red Cross wants to help people prepare and protect themselves and others from the rising risks of heatwaves in the UK.

    The British Red Cross has warned today that there is a dangerous perception gap in the UK when it comes to the public’s awareness of the risk of heat. Heatwaves can be deadly. Last summer the UK experienced the highest level of recorded excess deaths in England due to heat, with a total of 2,556 excess deaths. Despite this, a quarter of people in the UK still believe the country isn’t hot enough to be at risk from heatwaves. 

    The findings come in a new Red Cross report - Feeling The Heat - which looks at how prepared the UK public is for rising temperatures and how aware people are of the risks of heatwaves. 

    Today the impacts of climate change in the UK are already being seen, with the average length of warm spells having more than doubled in length in the last few decades. By 2050, the UK will be 50 per cent more likely to experience hot summers, and heat-related deaths could more than triple to around 7,000 per year. 

    Met Office Head of Civil Contingencies Will Lang says it’s vital that the public know and understand the risks associated with rising temperatures: “The UK is getting hotter. As a result of climate change, heatwaves are becoming longer and more extreme, and many people’s health and wellbeing will continue to suffer as a result. It’s just one of the reasons that we at the Met Office have launched an extreme heat warning this summer. 

    “We already know that certain groups are more at risk from extreme heat, including people aged over 75, adults with underlying health conditions, children and babies, as well as people living in top floor flats and in built-up urban areas where temperatures are higher.

    “With more hot conditions likely this summer, it is so important that the public understands the risks that heatwaves can bring, and to improve awareness of heat risk among the general public and also ensure that advice and support reaches the most vulnerable ahead of a heatwave. Weather warnings are just one of the ways we work to inform the public, emergency services and businesses of the threat of extreme weather events.”

    The research found that currently, the reality of the risks heatwaves can cause are not matched by the level of public concern. The public can be seen to have a positive perception of the word ‘heatwave’, seen as bringing good weather, with over a quarter of the UK thinking that heatwaves are a good thing with more than a third (37 per cent) believing that heatwaves will be a problem in the future, not now.

    The research highlighted that many high-risk groups in the UK, particularly those over 75, don’t perceive themselves as personally vulnerable to the effects of heatwaves. This can mean people don’t take early action to protect themselves in a heatwave despite hearing warnings. 

    Concerningly, three in ten (29 per cent) of those who are expecting a child or who have a child under three say they don’t know how to protect themselves during a heatwave, despite being at higher risk. Overall, one in five (22 per cent) people do not know where they can access information about how to protect themselves during a heatwave. 

    Matthew Killick, Director of Crisis Response and Community Resilience, British Red Cross, said: 

    “Despite what many think, UK heatwaves can impact us all. Every year people struggle with their health and wellbeing as a result, health and care services see an increase in demand, transport is interrupted, employers experience reduced productivity, and they can even be life threatening.  

    “But heatwaves don’t need to be deadly.  From checking on your neighbours to providing first aid, simple early actions can keep you, your family and friends safe and well during hot weather. 

    “We are calling on all UK governments to ensure people most vulnerable to heat risk are able to access the targeted information, advice and support they need to take action and stay safe and healthy.”

    This access to advice and education is crucial with 40 per cent of the UK public having never seen information on how to protect themselves during a heatwave, rising to almost half of people 75+ (47 per cent).

    Here are some of the actions you can take to keep safe before and during heatwaves:

    Before a heatwave: 
    Keep Informed, Stay alert. Know who is at risk, listen for weather warning alerts, be prepared learn what to do in a heatwave - ensure you have your medication 

    During a heatwave:  
    Stay cool, keep well. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol, limit strenuous physical activity, if you get hot take a cold bath or shower, wear light-weight loose-fitting clothes. 
    Keep your home cooler. 1 in 5 homes in England are likely to overheat – it's so important to know how to keep your home cool in hot weather in order to stay safe and well. You can do this by covering windows exposed to sunlight, opening windows when the air feels cooler outside and checking central heating is off. It may be cooler outside in the shade or in a public building. 
    Watch out and take action. Look out for neighbours, friends and family, if you’re an at-risk group stay aware of how you’re feeling, Get help – call NHS 111 or 999 in an emergency. 
    Learn First Aid to protect yourself and others from heat. Hotter UK summers mean increased risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Learn how to keep yourself and others well in hot weather with @BritishRedCross resources to help you learn first aid which can save lives. Download the British Red Cross’s First Aid app, visit: https://www.redcross.org.uk/first-aid/first-aid-apps 


    Notes to editor:

    The British Red Cross
    For more than 150 years, the British Red Cross has helped people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them recover and move on with their lives. redcross.org.uk 

    A note on methodology
    Opinium interviewed 2,000 UK adults online from 11th to 15th June 2021. Data were weighted to be nationally representative of UK adults by age, gender, region and social grade. Opinium is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

    Further polling information

    Key findings include:
    Over half (57 per cent) of those aged 75+ say they do not consider themselves as vulnerable to the impact of heatwaves, despite being at significantly higher risk.
    Around three in ten people or more among other at-risk groups do not consider themselves to be vulnerable to the impact of heatwaves, including those who work outside 30+ hours a week (34 per cent), those with a heart condition (31 per cent), and those who live in a top-floor flat (30 per cent).
    The majority (60 per cent) of UK adults have experienced at least one adverse effect of hot weather in the UK, most commonly headaches (33 per cent), dizziness or feeling faint (22 per cent), or heat rash (21 per cent). 
    One in five (18 per cent) UK adults say they have experienced heat exhaustion or heatstroke in the UK. 
    8 per cent of UK adults have ever needed to contact a GP, call an ambulance, or go to hospital or A&E as a result of hot weather in the UK. This rises to 36 per cent of those who work outdoors for 30 hours a week or more; 32 per cent of those who live in a top floor flat; and 26 per cent of those expecting a child or who have a child aged 0-3. 
    40 per cent of UK adults have never seen information on how to protect themselves during a heatwave, and one in ten (9 per cent) say they have never had advanced warning that a UK heatwave is expected.
    One in 10 people in the UK say they don’t know how they can protect themselves during a heatwave (10 per cent), and 22 per cent do not know where they can access information about how to protect themselves during a heatwave.
    One in five (18 per cent) say they don’t know how they can support family, friends or neighbours who are at risk during a heatwave.
    Four in 10 UK adults (44 per cent) think heatwaves are a normal part of summer in the UK, and over a third (37 per cent) think heatwaves will be a problem in the UK in the future, not now. 
    One in four UK adults also think heatwaves in the UK are a positive thing (26 per cent), and that the UK isn't hot enough to be at risk from heatwaves (25 per cent). 
    Certain groups are particularly vulnerable to heat risk, including;
    o People aged 75+  
    o People with chronic and underlying health conditions 
    o People living and working in urban settings  
    o Economically or socially marginalised groups 
    o People who are homeless  
    o People living alone or who are socially isolated 
    o People who work outdoors 
    o People living in top floor flats 
    o People who are pregnant 
    o Young children  
    o People with a drug or alcohol addiction