Don’t leave park homes out in the cold

Tom Wright and two park homes campaigners

Yesterday Age UK launched its campaign for warm park homes with a packed event in the House of Commons. Over 30 MPs attended and pledged their support for the campaign, which is very encouraging.

Continue reading “Don’t leave park homes out in the cold”

Redoubling our vigour to act on energy efficiency

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A new report from ResPublica, launched today sponsored by Age UK, shines the spotlight on the hapless Green Deal which, most people would agree, has been a total flop.

The report, After the Green Deal’, explores a range of possibilities aiming to produce an attractive and compelling offer for the millions who could benefit from having a more energy efficient home. It also looks outside the UK for inspiration, at other countries pursuing the same policy objectives.

THE GREEN DEAL

From its inception, the Green Deal struggled to capture the interest of older people who should have been one of its key target audiences. Back in 2013, research by Age UK found that 70 per cent of over-65s wouldn’t consider using the Green Deal, with the requirement to take out debt scaring off the majority.

Yet the problem of cold, leaky homes is huge for at least a million older people, including many of those who could benefit from home improvements. We know that older households tend to be over-represented in housing with poorer energy efficiency ratings – older couples in particular spend significantly more on their energy bills than younger groups, and cold homes pose a particular risk to their health. Continue reading “Redoubling our vigour to act on energy efficiency”

Fuel poverty – the next steps?

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The Coalition Government devolved the delivery of fuel poverty policy to the energy supply industry by introducing the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) to the household names in the energy supply business. Via their licence to supply, they are obligated to reduce domestic carbon emissions (ie help households to use less energy) by the most cost-effective method.

Scaling back of the Energy Company Obligation 

This turned out to be a programme which added about 5% to gas bills and about 11% to electricity bills  yielding some £1bn per year for remedial fuel poverty work. As global energy prices rose, these ‘extras’ on gas and electricity bills came into the firing line, and the Government scaled back ECO in 2013. With no tax-funded programme in play, and what is effectively a cap on what it obliges energy companies to do, the outlook for those in fuel poverty is bleak.  Continue reading “Fuel poverty – the next steps?”

Calling for action on winter deaths and illnesses

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Photo credit: zenjazzygeek (Flickr Creative Commons)

 

A NICE Guideline is not mandatory, but it is pretty firm – it uses the language ‘should’. So its Guideline on how Health and Wellbeing Boards – and indeed health professionals across the board – should deal with excess winter deaths and the issue of winter morbidity is very welcome, and offers encouragement to campaigners who have been looking for a greater focus on this age-old problem.

NICE starts unambiguously by pinning the problem to cold and hard-to-heat homes. And although the level of public concern rises when there is a spell of really cold weather, NICE points out that the health consequences begin to appear in ‘normal’ cold weather – when temperatures fall to six or five degrees (and that happens much more frequently that touching zero or below). Continue reading “Calling for action on winter deaths and illnesses”

A Lesson from Siberia

Portrait of a old woman in winter

In 1993, two friends and colleagues of mine alighted from an internal flight in the heart of Siberia. The light was failing and the temperature plummeted as they wound their way from the landing strip into an endless forest. They were lost. Eventually, coming upon a wooden settlement, they found shelter with the village teacher, the only English speaker for many, many miles.

Professor Bill Keatinge later confided in me that he had learned two lessons from this incident. One was to learn Russian (which he later did, with some panache). The second was to dress like the Russians. Because Yakutsk, the city which they had come to visit, is the coldest city in the world. During their trip, the temperature fell to a mere -26C. The lowest winter temperatures reach -60.

And what, may we ask, was the attraction of this cold Siberian city? Ironically, the inhospitable, intractable, bone gnawing cold was the motivation for their journey. They were part of the Eurowinter Group, a collection of Europe’s finest scientists, whose mission was to unravel the complicated story of winter deaths in Europe. Until that time, no-one had a convincing explanation (scientists call this a ‘model’) of the pattern of winter deaths in Europe which varied from one country to another. And the prime question was why on earth should the British Isles, with its temperate maritime climate, be the villain of the piece, with many more ‘excess winter deaths’ than its colder European neighbours? Continue reading “A Lesson from Siberia”

The shame of excess winter deaths

This morning the Office for National Statistics announced that there were 31,100 excess winter deaths last winter.

To say this is a national shame (as we have done) is both a cliché and also absolutely true.

Excess winter deaths – or the additional deaths during the winter months when compared to the rest of the year – are entirely preventable.

We know this because other countries with much harsher winters – such as the Scandinavian countries – have significantly fewer excess winter deaths.440x210_Snow-in-Shepton-Mal

Yet in the UK the numbers remain stubbornly high. Today’s figures show a 29% rise on the previous year and represent a four year high.

We all know that last winter was cold and long, but the figures are still unacceptable. That older people’s lives are still at the mercy of the weather in the twenty-first century is something we should rightly be ashamed of. Continue reading “The shame of excess winter deaths”

Green Deal performing poorly

At the heart of Age UK’s Warm Homes Campaign lies the conviction that the best way to insulate people from remorseless increases in energy costs and the health risks posed by cold homes is a major house refurbishment programme. The Green Deal was intended to drive that work – and upgrade 4m homes by 2020 – but the six month figures for the scheme are hapless, and we see no room for optimism any time soon.

As of mid-October, there are 219 Green Deal schemes in operation. True, there is a upstream pipeline of house surveys completed and Green Deal plans in preparation, but older householders seem rather underwhelmed. Whilst one in ten say their homes were not warm enough last winter and they would benefit from improved energy efficiency measures, 70% said they would not want a550x280_thermostat_lady Green Deal. The most frequently cited reasons were aversion to debt, and seeing the ‘loan’ repayment scheme as too expensive.   Continue reading “Green Deal performing poorly”