Guest blog – Energy Bill Revolution

This blog was contributed by Ed Matthew, Director of the Energy Bill Revolution. 

The recent prediction from the energy regulator OFGEM that energy bills are likely to rise as the UK becomes more dependent on gas is more bad news for British households facing ever mounting financial pressure.

The average dual fuel energy bill now costs a household over £1,400 each year. As the energy bills bite, fuel poverty is now rocketing out of control, affecting 1 in 4 families in the UK. A fuel poverty crisis is unfolding before our eyes.

Behind these figures lies a real human tragedy. Thousands of older people die from the cold every year and in extreme cases people are left with the stark 220x220_woman_adjusting_thermostatchoice of whether to feed their family or heat their home. Many of those most affected are the most vulnerable, older people, the disabled and young children.

The reaction of the Government to this crisis is lamentable. Despite their protestations that they are doing all they can to help the figures speak for themselves. They have cut spending on the fuel poor by 26% and slashed funding for energy efficiency measures for the fuel poor by 44%.  This is despite the fact that experts recognise by far the best long term solution to fuel poverty is to super insulate the UK housing stock.  The result is that fuel poverty is getting worse and by 2016 there could be up to 9 million households in fuel poverty. Continue reading “Guest blog – Energy Bill Revolution”

Green Deal officially launched

The avowed ambition of the Green Deal is to offer everyone the opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of their home at no up-front cost, so enabling them to make it warmer and cheaper to run.   Given that a third of our general housing stock is occupied by older households, Age UK obviously supports any initiative which will improve the quality and energy efficiency of our homes.   That is particularly important because with the introduction of the Green Deal, all the existing programmes which have operated in this field in the past, such as Warm Front and the insulation programme CERT run by the energy companies, are now closed.

The design of the Green Deal invites the householder to call the Energy Saving Advice Service (on 0300 123 1234) to find a Green Deal Provider – a private sector company accredited and monitored by the Government. This Provider will then arrange for an Assessor to visit, and identify the relevant steps which could be taken (such as insulation, new boiler, radiator valves etc). The  220x220_woman_adjusting_thermostatrecommended work must meet the ‘golden rule’ that the cost of getting this work done would reduce the household’s spending on energy by a greater amount – so saving the householder money. A Green Deal Plan will then be prepared for the householder to agree to, an authorised Installer would then arrive to do the work, and a repayment plan will be devised which will be added to (the now reduced) electricity bill for an agreed period. In effect, the loan is a debt on the energy meter, not on the householder, and gets passed on if the house is bought and sold. Continue reading “Green Deal officially launched”

Guest blog – Dan Jarvis MP

This guest blog was contributed by Dan Jarvis MP.

Dan Jarvis MP
Dan Jarvis MP

During the winter of 2011/12, 24,000 people died as a result of plummeting temperatures and soaring heating bills.  These deaths did not come without warning. Similar numbers have died every winter for decades. As winter draws upon us again, it is unacceptable that many people face an uncertain and dangerous future, simply because they cannot afford to keep themselves warm.

19,500 winter deaths, of the total of 24,000, happened amongst those aged over 75. These men and women worked hard contributing to our society on the understanding that they will be cared for if the need arises, and they deserve far better treatment in these cold months.

Care for the elderly is an important yardstick by which societies should be measured. It is unacceptable that in modern Britain, which despite economic recession is still a relatively prosperous nation, vulnerable people are at risk simply because they cannot afford to heat their homes properly.

As well as a moral tragedy, fuel poverty is an economic scandal. The former Chief Medical Officer, estimated that cold homes cost the NHS £850 million every year. An end to the unacceptable levels of cold winter deaths would not only save lives during the winter months, but the savings made would help to save countless more lives. Continue reading “Guest blog – Dan Jarvis MP”

Excess Winter Deaths

In the winter of 2011/12, there were 24,000 Excess Winter Deaths in England and Wales (of which 21,700 were people over 65). By way of comparison, this shocking figure dwarfs the 1,715 people killed on roads in England and Wales in 2011.

True, the figures show a fall on last year, which in turn was a fall on the gristly winter of 2009/10. In fact, amongst the very vulnerable group of older people over 75, there was actually an increase.   But the figures go up and down each year, and it is too early to see long term trends. They are simply far too high to feel anything but shame for this country’s deplorable record on supporting its older citizens to cope with the cold.178x178_spread_the_warmth

The problem of coping with the cold is primarily an issue of housing. Broadly speaking, the older the house the more likely it is to be thermally inefficient, and the more expensive it will be to keep adequately warm.   The proportion of our housing stock built before 1919 is 22%:  a further 17% was built between 1919 and 1944. The work on insulating these homes and equipping them with modern, energy efficient heating systems has been very slow, and we have watched the numbers in fuel poverty rising remorselessly over the last eight years as energy prices have spiralled upwards. Continue reading “Excess Winter Deaths”

Fuel poverty numbers falling!

Well, that’s not a headline you expected to read. But that is the official story, as charted in the 2012 Annual Report on Fuel Poverty Statistics, published this week (17 May).

The number of households in fuel poverty in England was 4m in 2009: in this latest report covering the year 2010, the numbers had fallen to 3.5m. This seems counter-intuitive as our memory is of cold, hard winters and rising energy prices, but some interesting features emerge about 2010 from the report.

First, it was a cold year, with January, February and December being months with average temperatures well below the norm for the last five years.   Household energy consumption rose by about 10%. But energy prices were falling for the first time since 2000 – and of course have increased sharply again since 2010.

Second, incomes for most of the population increased by 2-3%, but for the poorest quintile the increase was 4%. This group includes a large proportion of the fuel poor, and the combination of better incomes and lower energy prices obviously feeds into the fuel poverty calculations.

Third, there was a startling improvement in the energy efficiency of our housing stock. Households with gas fired condensing boilers grew from 24% to 32%, and this more energy efficient equipment contributes to the story of an unusual year. The proportion of households in the upper four bands (out of seven) on the scale measuring energy efficiency rose from 52% to 57%.   Since then, the Warm Front programme has been drastically scaled down, reducing that option for a lot of fuel poor households.

In fairness, ministers are not presenting these figures as a policy triumph.   Their projections for 2011 and 2012 see fuel poverty numbers resuming their upward rise. The task of eradicating the scourge of fuel poverty (with its associated misery, illness and even death) remains a daunting one, and older households are very much in the front line. This time next year, with the next Annual Report, we will probably be delving into the thesaurus to find synonyms for depressing, lamentable or disgraceful.

Find out more about Age UK’s work to reduce the number of excess winter deaths.