Cold homes persist as high energy costs and energy efficiency grant cuts bite

This weekend, people will die of cold in their own homes, or perhaps not die of cold, but of a pre-existing medical condition which is exacerbated by living in a cold home.

Finally the energy companies are beginning to reduce their fuel costs, but mostly too late for any benefit this winter. The Independent explains that ‘Every seven winter minutes, it is authoritatively calculated, an older person dies from the cold. Even relatively mild January temperatures increase heart attacks and strokes’.  As far back as 2010 the BBC was reporting that ‘For every degree the temperature drops below 18C, deaths in the UK go up by nearly 1.5%’.

Dr Angie Bone of Public Health England (PHE) is reminding people to keep warm at home and to take care when out and about. ‘Over the past few weeks we’ve had some very disruptive weather, but temperatures have been quite mild – now the weather looks like it will turn cold in much of the country. It’s so important to remember that cold does kill, even in places where the temperatures aren’t at their lowest. It’s important that we make the point that people should think about how cold can affect them. Our advice is that when indoors, have plenty of warm food and drinks to stay warm and try to maintain indoor temperatures to at least 18°C, particularly if you have to sit still for long periods, have long term illness or are 65 or over.’

It may seem like common sense, but in reality many people can’t afford to heat their homes to anything like 18°C and even if they can that may only be for short periods of time and certainly not sufficient to stave off the cold.

Even government statisticians calculate that in ‘2013, the number of households in fuel poverty in England was estimated at 2.35 million, representing approximately 10.4 per cent of all English households’. These are exactly the people that need our help, but nobody seems to be taking this issue seriously and certainly nobody appears to be prepared to put in the necessary investment to make event the smallest dent in these figures.

So, what can be done about it?  Firstly we must push energy companies to lower their prices, especially when wholesale prices have been dropping for such a long time now.  But secondly, and much more importantly, we need to help those most in need to reduce their energy bills on a permanent basis and that means investing in energy efficiency measures. The Government’s ECO scheme which began by estimating an investment of some £1.3bn per year until 2022 has already been cut. It now faces being cut again (announced in the spending review) to just £640m/yr of investment from 2017. This clearly isn’t the right direction of travel.

This week is Cold Homes Week (1-5 February 2016) – a week of action on fuel poverty and excess winter deaths. It is part of Age UK’s campaign for warm homes.

Local authorities, charities and the NHS are picking up the strain and most of us feel powerless to help.  But you can help.  Firstly switch your energy tariff.  The more people do this the sooner the energy companies will have to start competitive pricing and that benefits everyone.  Secondly have a look at the Energy Bill Revolution and perhaps write to your MP.  And, of course, check what help you can provide to your neighbours.

 

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