A country that allows thousands of people to die unnecessarily faces serious challenges. Currently, the coronavirus pandemic is killing people across the world and is front and centre on every news channel. Fuel poverty is killing tens of thousands each year. The UK’s rate of excess winter deaths is double that of Finland, even though the average January temperature in London is 10C higher than Helsinki.
More than 30,000 additional deaths take place between December and March compared to the rest of the calendar year. According to figures from National Energy Action (NEA), it is estimated that over 9,500 deaths occur from living in a cold house. Nearly 7,000 of these deaths are linked to the 25% coldest homes in the country. This is the same number of people who pass away from breast or prostate cancer. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a cure for cancer yet, but as a nation we have the available resources to make sure everyone is able to heat up their home. Utility Saving Expert, an online energy comparison website is joining the fight to end fuel poverty, in addition to helping customers save hundreds of pounds on their energy bills.
Fuel poverty kills, how can we allow those that are not able to pay for their gas and electricity to die. This includes many that are elderly and vulnerable. Despite pension scheme reviews, nearly 2 million pensioners still live in financial poverty. This figure compares harshly to other developed nations around the world.
Compared to the rest of Europe, homes in the UK have a significant disadvantage when it comes to energy efficiency and retaining heat, this is in addition to the colder climate found here. Elderly residents with pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory conditions are amongst the most vulnerable. This isn’t good news when we’re currently facing a worldwide pandemic.
If we were to tackle this problem, it is estimated that we could save England’s NHS (National Health Service) £1.3bn. This would result in fewer beds being used by patients and reducing the pressure on A&E departments and GP surgeries.
Local authorities are beginning to accept that there is a link between poor health and a lack of heating. Poor insulation and a non-functioning boiler will only lead more people directly to hospital. Local government budget cuts will inevitably cause vital public services to be reduced. According to the Institute for Public and Policy Research, “almost £1 in every £7 cut from public health services has come from England’s 10 most deprived communities – compared to just £1 in every £46 in the country’s 10 least deprived areas”.
This could cause significant problems for hospitals. Those that become sick will be sent to hospital and then discharged as quickly as possible to free up beds, to then only return to the cold temperature home that caused the illness to begin with. Not only is the physical wellbeing of those in fuel poverty affected, mental health is another key factor to consider. Those that live on their own may fear social isolation because they may wonder what others will think of them when being invited into a cold home. Living alone is challenging enough, this additional element will only make friendships and company more difficult to manage.
Government schemes such as the Warm Home Discount, which gives those that qualify a £140 discount on their energy bill each year should be defended. Currently, those that do qualify must have this knowledge ahead of time and apply through their supplier each year. There are limited spaces available, and nearly two million households could potentially miss out.
The three biggest causes of fuel poverty in the UK are: the energy efficiency of a property and therefore the amount of energy required to heat and light it, the cost of energy and household income.
So, what do the numbers say? There is a direct correlation between a poorly insulated home and a fuel poor home. Nearly 96% of homes with fuel poor households are inadequately insulated. This equates to the average fuel poor household having to pay an additional £371 each year to stay warm in comparison to an average UK household. Energy costs have risen significantly in recent years and are higher than inflation.
To fight fuel poverty, we need to raise awareness of the severity of the problem and how it affects our society as a whole.