More than half of people in the UK say they have worse health due to the rising cost of living, with medics reporting some patients cannot afford to look after themselves.
A YouGov poll of 2,001 people commissioned by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) found 55% felt their health had got worse owing to issues such as high heating costs and soaring food bills.
One in four of these people have been told this is the case by a doctor or other medical professional, with stress seen as a driving factor of ill-health.
Of all those who reported their health getting worse, 84% said it was due to increased heating costs, 78% cited the rising cost of food and almost half (46%) said transport costs had had an impact.
Some 37% of those in higher income brackets (ABC1) said the cost-of-living crisis had had a fairly negative impact on their health, while 16% said it had had a very negative impact.
Of those in lower socio-economic groups, 37% said it had had a fairly negative impact and 22% said it had had a very negative impact.
Members of the Royal College of Physicians have told how people are suffering, with one saying a woman’s ulcers on her fingertips were made worse by her house being cold.
The cost-of-living crisis has barely begun, so the fact that one in two people is already experiencing worsening health should sound alarm bellsDr Andrew Goddard
Another patient could not afford to travel to hospital for lung cancer investigation and treatment while medics also reported people’s asthma and other lung conditions were being made worse by exposure to mould in poor quality council housing.
The Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA), a group of more than 200 organisations convened by the RCP, is calling for a cross-Government strategy to reduce health inequalities.
It says this must look at poor housing, food quality, communities, employment, racism and discrimination, transport and air pollution.
Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the University College London Institute of Health Equity, said: “This survey demonstrates that the cost-of-living crisis is damaging the perceived health and wellbeing of poorer people.
“The surprise is that people in above average income groups are affected, too.
If we require anything of government, at a minimum, it is to enable people to have the means to pursue a healthy lifeProfessor Sir Michael Marmot
“In my recommendations for how to reduce health inequalities, sufficient income for a healthy life was one among six.
“But it is crucial as it relates so strongly to many of the others, in particular early child development, housing and health behaviours.
“As these figures show, the cost-of-living crisis is a potent cause of stress. If we require anything of government, at a minimum, it is to enable people to have the means to pursue a healthy life.”
Dr Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “The cost-of-living crisis has barely begun, so the fact that one in two people is already experiencing worsening health should sound alarm bells, especially at a time when our health service is under more pressure than ever before.
“The health disparities white paper due later this year must lay out plans for a concerted effort from the whole of government to reduce health inequality.”
Katherine Merrifield, assistant director for healthy lives at the Health Foundation, said: “Today’s findings underscore that the cost-of-living crisis now threatens to further erode people’s health.
“Many more families will have to choose between forgoing essentials that are vital to living healthy lives – such as food and heating – or being driven into the stress and uncertainty of problem debt.
“The Government needs to get a hold on the crisis. Recent decisions suggest they are yet to fully grasp the pandemic’s stark lesson that health and wealth are fundamentally intertwined.”
A Government spokesman said: “We understand how the rising cost of living is making life harder for people and we are providing support worth over £22 billion in 2022 to 2023 to help families with these pressures.
“The Health and Social Care Secretary has been clear that tackling health disparities is a priority.
“Our health disparities white paper will set out a series of impactful measures to help people live longer and happier lives in good physical and mental health.”