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”

What on earth are carbon taxes?

Energy is a huge political and household issue. The dual fuel bill for an average household is £1315 per year, and that’s before the current round of price increases.

What we’ve learned this week is that Secretary of State Ed Davey wears a jumper to keep warm at home, and that British Gas is increasing its prices by 9.2%. We also learned from the Scottish Nationalists that if Scotland voted for independence and if they were to be in Government, they would cut prices by removing the social and environmental obligations on energy suppliers, and instead pay for fuel poverty programmes with the proceeds from carbon taxes.200x160_gas_hob_g_main

These carbon taxes come in two forms, and are levied on the industries emitting the largest amount of greenhouse gasses, principally carbon dioxide. The idea is to push these industries into using non-polluting energy – energy generated from wind and tides and other renewables, and from nuclear sources. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme is one of the carbon taxes and applies to all members of the EU, though the revenues go to the national governments.   Continue reading “What on earth are carbon taxes?”

Disarray in fuel poverty policy

In their consideration of the Energy Select Committee report on Energy Prices, Profits and Fuel Poverty (published 29 July), the media focused on the opacity of the energy companies’ accounts, the lack of transparency, and the apparent weakness of the Regulator, Ofgem, in looking after consumers’ interests.

Elderly woman trying to keep warm by the firesideBut the media failed to comment on the trenchant observations made by the Committee on fuel poverty. Here, the Government came in for a lot of flak. The Committee found it disappointing that so much of Government fuel poverty policy centres on short term help with bills when improving the thermal efficiency of the UK housing stock should be the priority. It commented on the hiatus in fuel poverty policy whilst thrashing out a new definition and a new approach, and observed that policy has effectively been frozen at a time when energy price rises have made energy costs increasingly unaffordable for vulnerable and low income households. Continue reading “Disarray in fuel poverty policy”

Green Deal performance data

Ahead of publishing the June Green Deal statistics, which the Department obviously knew were woefully disappointing, it went into overdrive to set out positive aspects of the scheme. It published data showing that energy efficient housing commanded a premium price over unimproved homes.  It released opinion survey data reporting rising awareness and rising interest in the Green Deal. But the tangible performance record is desperately poor. Age UK is not finger-pointing and dancing for joy:  the Green Deal and associated ECO (Energy Company Obligation) is the only show currently in town, and thus in the drive to address fuel poverty, and it needs to work – dramatically.

The ECO part, where energy companies install free or subsidised measures, is440x210_handyvan1 the closest we get to a silver lining. There were nearly 82,000 measures installed in the four months to April. The percentage of these going to low income households (those qualifying for the Affordable Warmth or Carbon Saving Communities) was nearly 70% (or about 170,000 per year if aggregated upwards), and most of the measures were loft insulation (56%), hard-to-treat cavity wall insulation (33%) and replacement boilers (10%). This installation performance suggests that households were not getting the comprehensive makeover which would make them ‘fuel-poverty-proof’, and barely dents the fuel poverty headcount of about 6m households in the UK. Continue reading “Green Deal performance data”

Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives

It may be measured in baby steps, but at last the Department of Health (DH) is acknowledging the importance of cold homes, and living in fuel poverty, to the health debate.

Age UK’s lobbying and campaigning on fuel poverty issues is strongly grounded on the health implications – the ill-health arising from not keeping adequately warm, measured both in terms of human suffering and costs to the NHS – so this engagement by the DH is a significant advance.  Two short reports from Age UK have looked at recent public health initiatives to assess their impact.

aOne is concerned with the Warm Homes Healthy People programme.  This was announced as a ‘one-off’ in 2011, then repeated in 2012.

It was a £20m prize pot to which local authorities were invited to bid, provided their proposals were to address ‘winter pressures’, and provided they were doing so in partnership with the local voluntary and community groups.

It stimulated a remarkable range of varied activities, from clearing snow and going shopping in adverse weather, to providing hot meals and issuing ‘winter survival packs’, to checking electric blankets and checking benefit entitlements.

It drove a wave of local, community activity, and local Age UK partners were substantially involved. This report looks at their experience of the project, and it is overwhelmingly supportive. Continue reading “Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives”

Fuel poverty statistics

The latest annual report from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) covers the year 2011 – many energy price hikes and policy changes ago.   The headline is that in England, the numbers of households in fuel poverty fell, from 3.3m in 2010 to 3.2m (and in the UK from 4.75m to 4.5m).   These are the households which need to spend 10% or more of their income on energy to keep adequately warm, a definition we have all become accustomed to using.   But DECC’s report has turned into a statistical soup, as it struggles to introduce a new definition of fuel poverty (which measures two different things), and reports anyway on a year long forgotten.

200x160_gas_hob_g_mainFor what it’s worth, 2011 was mild (for both the winter months at the beginning and end), and this led to a fall in national domestic energy consumption.   It was also the last year when the (now abolished) Warm Front programme was operating at full speed – the tax-funded grant programme targeted on low income households – so energy efficiency improvements were driving forward alongside the schemes offered by the energy supply companies to save energy.

Continue reading “Fuel poverty statistics”