Fuel Poverty Action Opinion

Fuel Poverty Action believes the steeply rising cost of energy will be devastating to millions of people, and in some cases lethal. Before this series of price hikes, and before the pandemic, over 10,000 people were dying every year due to cold homes in the UK. Now, many more will get ill, go to bed early to keep warm, or be unable to do their work or their school homework in their own homes. Pensioners and disabled people are hit hardest of all.

This is totally unnecessary: 

1) There is plenty of money. Huge windfall profits are further enriching wealthy individuals and favoured corporations. A £22 billion subsidy from public money is going to oil and gas companies to decommission old rigs. People on low incomes pay higher prices than their better off neighbours, due to prepayment meters charging more, or being unable to use direct debit.

2) The UK has the leakiest homes in Europe. If you’re heating the streets, as so many of us are, the price increase you experience will be many times more than the average increase being quoted. Basic repairs and insulation would make all the difference, but warm homes programmes were closed down 10 years ago, and the government’s latest, much-vaunted “Green Homes Grant” was designed to fail, and quickly did, with no replacement in sight.  

3) Insulation has until recently been too little prioritised by much of the climate movement. Homes account for 27% of UK emissions, and good insulation would cut carbon emissions, improve health, and save desperately needed household money. But it must be non-toxic, non-flammable, and carried out in a way that does not severely impact on residents, or cause more catastrophes like Grenfell. A good step would be to make retrofitting a requirement for every home that is left empty.  According to the most recent Government figures released in November last year, 268,385 homes in England had been empty for at least six months. Once retrofitted, empty homes could be used to decant people who could not cope with the disruption of deep retrofits while continuing to live in a property.

4) Homes now have to be made ready for a more unpredictable and sometimes extreme climate, with increasing storms, floods, “beasts from the east” and heat waves.

5) For years, and even up to last spring’s price hike, everyone was told that it was their responsibility to switch supplier — the market and competition would solve the problem of high prices. Many people cannot switch, due to debt or landlord refusal or lack of time and internet, and many were also suspicious — everyone racing for a good deal never looked like it would work as a solution. Now we see the results, as the new competitive firms go under.

6) The genuine switch that must happen is to renewable energy, well-repaired well-insulated housing, and sustainable heating systems, as well as liveable incomes and fair pricing. The agony being imposed on people as poverty deepens and safety nets are withdrawn is not a surprise or an accident. It is a choice.