Policy brief: public perceptions of heatwaves in the UK

Assessing people's perceptions of heatwaves in the UK following the hottest summer on record.

Our new publication, Policy briefing of public perception of heatwaves in the UK, looks at the way people in the UK see risks from heatwaves.

Summer 2022 saw unprecedented heat in the UK, with record-breaking temperatures and 3,271 excess deaths. Infrastructure was also disrupted during the heatwave, along with economic growth.

Following the record-breaking heatwave, we repeated our UK-wide poll that formed the basis of our initial report on heatwaves ‘Feeling the heat: a British Red Cross briefing of heatwaves in the UK’ in 2021.

Our new publication examines the way people in the UK look at heat risks two years on. It also looks at the way the policy landscape has changed following our year of record breaking heat.

A group of friends walk outside in the hot sun.

Many at risk groups in the UK don't know the risks posed from extreme heat.

Download icon Download the report (PDF)

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Key findings

1. In the two years since our last report, concern about heatwaves has increased. However there is a clear gap between awareness and action.

2. Keeping homes cool is a challenge for people and cost is the biggest barrier to people making adaptations to their homes.

3. Responses indicate that many people think that governments across the UK are unprepared in the face of heatwaves.

It’s clear that greater urgency is required at all levels of government across the UK.

People and communities need more support to prepare for, recover from and adapt to the impacts of heatwaves. The report sets out a number of recommendations for policymakers.

Our recommendations

1. Action on awareness, preparedness and adaptation to heatwaves must prioritise those most at risk.

  • Governments across the UK have widely acknowledged the impact of heatwaves on vulnerable groups. However, this has not yet led to the level of targeted and coordinated action that is needed.

2. A whole society approach to building awareness to heat risk and supporting preparedness is required.

  • Targeted communication for communities affected by heatwaves should be prioritised. These messages should be informed by and developed alongside groups with relevant lived experience.
  • Well-resourced, co-ordinated and cross-government communication approach to improve understanding of risk is needed. This would support preparedness across a range of weather-related emergencies, including heatwaves.

3. Direct policy intervention is required to enable people most at risk to adapt to heatwaves.

  • Adaptation to buildings and urban planning is critical to tackle indoor and outdoor heat.
  • Targeted support for adapting homes and improving access to cool spaces for those most at risk is also critical. These measures will help address the escalating effects of heatwaves on health, wellbeing and the economy.

4. Comprehensive and coordinated risk management for heatwaves should be prioritised by the UK and devolved governments.

  • Coordinated action across government, sectors, policies, frameworks, and timescales is needed. This will help to build resilience against heat risk and other extreme weather events.


For more information, contact Adeline Siffert, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor on Climate: adelinesiffert@redcross.org.uk