I am beginning to think that winter is never going to end. By now we should have mild March breezes, sunshine and showers – and daffodils. But instead we’re facing icy winds from the East and 10-foot snowdrifts.
But of course, that’s the British weather. With all our technology, we can just about predict it, but we certainly can’t control it.
At the end of a long cold winter, we are also facing steeply-rising energy prices. The Office for Budget Responsibility this week predicted a 7% rise in energy costs this year, and a 3% rise next year.
This has an impact on us all – but particularly those on low incomes who need to keep warm, and that means that older people living on low and fixed incomes are disproportionately affected.
These people shouldn’t be at the mercy of the weather and the market – but what can we do? Age UK and others think that now is the time to concentrate on the missing piece of the jigsaw: the quality of our housing.
The UK has some of the least energy-efficient housing in Europe, which means that our heating bills are some of the highest, despite the fact that we pay less for our energy per kWh than almost any other European country. We end up paying for a lot of energy which is burned without generating heat by inefficient boilers, or simply leaks out of the doors, windows and lofts of our homes.
Talk about energy efficiency and many of us stop listening. It is, to be honest, a pretty dull subject. But we are going to need to get thinking about it soon. Unless we do something about the housing stock in this country, more and more vulnerable older people and families will be unable to afford to heat their homes.
The choice to ‘heat or eat’ is a cliché – but that doesn’t stop it being true.
I have made the case before on this blog for more funding for energy efficiency. The Government has brought in new schemes – the Green Deal and ECO – and Age UK is watching these with interest. We’d be delighted if they do deliver the improvements we have been promised, but our experience leads us to be sceptical as to whether they will.
As part of the Energy Bill Revolution campaign we are actively calling for a much more significant programme of investment to make all our homes more energy efficient. Along with a range of organisations as diverse as Friends of the Earth and the energy companies E.on and npower, we want the Government to use the money it is receiving carbon revenues to fund this.
The weather forecast for the next few weeks is pretty grim and spring still seems a way off. But a change in the weather will come eventually. An improvement to our cold and inefficient housing stock is possible too – but it won’t happen unless we can convince our politicians that this is what is needed.
Find out more about Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign and why we need to protect the health of older people in winter at www.spreadthewarmth.org.uk