What is fuel poverty?
An 85 year old widow struggles to pay her gas bills and decides not to use the heating but rather to live in one room of her flat, under blankets, trying to keep warm.
A low-income working family have to manage childcare and living costs whilst trying to keep their rented Victorian house warm and fend off persistent damp and mould growth.
A man who cares full-time for his wife, a cancer sufferer, tries to make sure she has a comfortable home to live in, knowing that she needs to be warm 24 hours a day.
There’s a technical definition of fuel poverty, but sometimes the stories mean more. Across London, people are living in homes that are hard to keep warm, facing rising energy costs that are outside their control, and struggling to manage the day-to-day costs of living.
I in 5 households in London find it difficult to afford to keep warm at home.
Why does it matter?
Cold is a merciless opponent. Living in a cold home increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, bronchitis and other respiratory infections, coughs and colds, and falls. It increases symptoms of arthritis and joint pain. In the most dramatic cases, living in a cold home can lead to hypothermia.
Every year in London, around 2500 more people die in the winter months than expected (known as Excess Winter Deaths).
The Department of Health estimates the annual cost to the NHS of treating people living in cold homes is £850 million. This does not include additional spending by social services or economic losses through missed work.
The impacts aren’t only physical. Think of the anxiety caused by struggling to pay bills, or the isolation of someone who doesn’t welcome visitors because their home is riddled with damp. Children in cold homes often fall behind at school, unable to find a warm, quiet place to study and missing more schooldays through illness.
London is one of the richest cities in the world and yet it contains some of the most deprived areas in the UK. People on low incomes are more likely to be struggling to keep warm and well at home, exacerbating health inequalities. Many of those living in cold homes are vulnerable in other ways, and are isolated or hard-to-reach. Helping people to be able to live comfortably is an end in itself, but it’s also a route by which Londoners in need can be referred for other services and support.
How to fix it
Providing someone with a warm home is relatively simple. All of the solutions are well-understood and proven; they’re just difficult to coordinate and fund. This Hub aims to connect you to the support that is available in different London Boroughs, including:
– Improving the energy efficiency of homes – through better insulation, draughtproofing, improved heating systems and better heating controls.
– Increasing incomes – many people do not claim any or all of the benefits to which they are entitled. Benefit checks can help remedy this, and advice on money management can help ensure that households can plan for and pay their bills.
– Cutting energy costs – whilst the cost of electricity and gas keeps going up, there are ways of reducing it. Changing tariff or switching energy supplier can make a big difference, and there are rebates and discounts available for the most vulnerable households.
– Using energy more wisely – most people do not know how much energy they use or how much different types of energy cost. Building understanding helps empower individuals to make informed choices about energy use at home.
What is being done to tackle fuel poverty?
Nationally, Government has a long-standing target to eradicate fuel poverty, as far as practically possible, by 2016. This target is now under review. A consultation will be published about a new target, which is likely to focus on requiring the homes of fuel poor households to achieve a certain standard of energy efficiency.
Alongside the target, Government has a number of national policy initiatives, mainly rebates / payments to vulnerable households (eg, the Warm Home Discount and Winter Fuel Payment) and schemes to encourage energy efficiency improvements (such as Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation).
‘In from the cold’ is a report from the London Assembly’s Health and Public Services Committee which shows projections of how fuel poverty in the capital might increase. The Mayor of London has run a number of energy efficiency and supplier switching schemes: you can find out more here.
The London Fuel Poverty Risk Indicators dataset can be used to map wards where fuel poverty is more likely to exist, based on housing, health, demographic and income data.
Local authorities play a very active role in tackling fuel poverty. On this Hub, you’ll find details of the different advice, support, incentives and grants available within each London Borough. Simply use the Find My Borough function on the left hand side of any page to look for information local to you or your client.
What can you do?
More and more people are recognising that their client groups are at risk of fuel poverty, and that tackling fuel poverty can help address other issues at the same time. Public health professionals are increasingly recognising that warm homes can prevent hospitalisation and stop people coming back to hospital once they have been discharged. The voluntary sector is working with residents across a range of issues and bringing fuel poverty and its solutions very much into the support they offer. At the grass-roots level, neighbours are looking out for neighbours when the weather gets cold.
Everyone has a part to play: the best thing that can be done for someone who may be at risk from living in a cold home is a referral into a local support service. Use the Find My Borough tool on the left of this page to find out what’s on offer in your local area.