New report shows that action is needed to protect those on the lowest incomes from summer heat.

People on low incomes are sweltering through 45C temperatures in their homes, seriously impacting their health and wellbeing, new research shows.

Almost two thirds of people on income support (62 per cent) are struggling to keep their homes cool in summer, according to an ACOSS survey of 208 people.

Some 90 per cent said the heat makes them sick and 30 per cent have suffered heat stress so badly they have sought medical care.

Elderly people and people with poor health or living with disability tend to be worse affected, with heat stress exacerbating diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and seizures.

With energy bills soaring, 73 per cent said they have cut back on fan or air conditioning use and 66 per cent said they have gone without food or medicine to afford energy bills.

Liz, an Austudy recipient from NSW said: “The cost of energy just adds to an already stressful situation. We are a family of two adult students, one working part-time, one unable to work, with two children. It makes it hard to complete study when you’re worrying about finances.

“We just have to exist through the heat. We can’t go anywhere because we can’t afford to pay for anything like going to the cinema. I just sit in front of a fan spraying myself with water to cool down. Sleeping is extremely difficult.

“My husband has been to hospital a couple of times because he is dehydrated. He takes hydralite, but that is expensive so he limits it.”

Claire, a Disability Support Pension recipient from Perth, said: “I have recorded indoor temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius. It is usually 10 degrees hotter inside than outside in the evenings, and opening up the windows and doors is pointless unless there’s a good breeze. 

“I have to cool my home despite how expensive it is because of my health problems. I have fibromyalgia, chronic migraine, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. All of these are exponentially exacerbated by heat. The hotter it is, the worse my fatigue and weakness, the more frequent and persistent the migraine, and I am more likely to have heart rate spikes with blood pressure drops that can result in losing consciousness.” 

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said the survey showed government action is needed to protect the health of people on low incomes.

“This survey shows how people on the lowest incomes are being impacted first, worst, and longest by hot weather. The level and duration is being made worse by climate change.

“Too many people are living in housing that is poorly insulated and far too hot in summer.

“Soaring energy bills and woefully inadequate income support levels mean they cannot afford to keep themselves cool – and this is having a serious impact on their physical and mental health.

“In the May budget the federal government should commit to invest in improving the energy performance of low income housing, starting with public and social housing and provide energy debt relief to people struggling with unmanageable debt.

“We also need state and territory governments to mandate minimum energy performance standards in rental properties and reform energy concessions to better meet need.” 

Key findings

  1. Almost two thirds of people on income support (62 per cent) struggle to keep their homes cool in summer
  2. 90 per cent said the heat makes them sick and 30 per cent have had to seek medical treatment due to heat stress
  3. Almost half (43 per cent) many face mobility, cost and other barriers to leaving their homes for cooler places
  4. 83 per cent said they find it hard to pay their energy bills. 63 per cent said they are going without essentials like food or medical care and 68 per cent said they went into or increased their debt to pay energy bills

Read the full report here