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As the cold wind starts to chill and we fully enter the winter period, Joe Bradbury looks at the knock on effects of fuel poverty

We live in difficult times.

The rapid increase in energy prices forces good people into bad debt for necessities such as warmth and water.

It seems that despite living in the age of great excess, many find themselves existing day-to-day – simply surviving Britain.

Fuel poverty has gone unseen for too long

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Assistant editor of Housing Association magazine

Heating or eating?

Recent studies indicate that food bank use has increased exponentially over the last 12 months, painfully revealing how miserably welfare benefits fail to cover basic living costs. Figures from the UK’s national food bank, the Trussel Trust show that in the year running up to March 2018, 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies were delivered to people in crisis across Britain. People can’t afford to eat, let alone make payment next time an over inflated heating bill lands on their mat.

To make matters worse, there are currently around 4.5 million homes known to be in Fuel Poverty in the UK today. The true figure may never truly be known, nor its cost. There are also a further 21 million UK households suffering with poor energy efficiency - below B and C on an Energy Performance Certificate. Brexit continues to drive up energy bill prices by £75+ per year; the British people have collectively paid £2bn more in the year following the EU withdrawal vote due to exchange rates, according to Ofgem.

1 in 10 households in England are now living in fuel poverty. Remember this as you pass countless houses on your daily commute in and out of work. See it in the eyes of the people passing you by as you shop. Fuel poverty is rife and it’s everywhere. The choice between heating and eating is very real for many.

Rising debt

When considering those affected by Fuel Poverty, the mind conjures up a sad person in a jumper huddled up to a space heater in a cold and damp home. This is the image that has been portrayed time and time again in the media. But what about the vast unseen demographic of people who choose to keep their heating on at any cost, becoming indebted in the process? How about the people who are driven into financial chaos, simply for trying to keep a home warm that they may never own? These people are not yet a statistic on the Fuel Poverty report, but affected none the less by crisis.

There are 14.3 million people of all ages living in poverty in Britain today.

An old report on poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that more than 7% of the UK’s poorest families fell behind with water bills between 2014 and 2016. Around 3.8% fell behind with electricity, and 3.5% fell behind on gas payments. These figures are expected to be much higher in 2017/18 due to a rise in the cost of living and stagnation in wages for the 8 million working families afflicted by fuel poverty.

Knock-on effect

Last winter claimed 50,000 lives, according to the ‘Excess Winter Deaths in England and Wales Report’. This is the highest these figures have been since 1976. The morbid report is telling of the harshness that so many people are forced to endure, living in their homes during cold weather.

For every death, it is estimated that 5 people had emergency admissions to hospital and 27 had additional visits to their GPs. The human cost is clear; the financial cost harder to quantify but no less grand in scale, I would wager. The cost to a health service already under intense strain is staggering.

This strain is felt by everybody, right down to the patient waiting over 10 hours in A&E just to be seen.

Raising awareness

In a bid to raise awareness of the changes that need to happen within the housing sector, Mitsubishi Electric has been setting a fine example for us all to follow. Working closely with housing associations and housebuilders, they’re tirelessly working on a solution to this crisis.

I admire their zeal, but they cannot do it alone. More recently, they have been pairing up with TV celebrity and architect, George Clarke to reach out to a larger audience on the subject of fuel poverty.

On the 4th of December, a group of specifiers, architects, Housing Associations, housebuilders and heating engineers packed into a crowded conference centre at Mitsubishi Electric’s Hatfield headquarters to experience an impassioned presentation from themselves and George.

The architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter spoke open and honestly for almost an hour, disparaging of the current way we build our homes as a Nation. He argued that the industry mind-set needs revamping to reject outdated practices, embrace modern methods of construction and tackle the crisis of fuel poverty head on.

George Clarke has also been contributing to ‘The Hub’, where he recently wrote: “It’s time to wake up. We are destroying the environment at such a rapid pace it’s frightening. We all know it, and yet we blindly continue to live in a world where profit, business and growth is put before the planet.

“We need to build better, greener homes. Not in the ‘future’ but now. This is going to take a radical change by everyone involved in the home building industry. The government, developers, manufacturers, councils, planning departments, builders and energy suppliers.”

Please share the article

This is undeniably a resounding sentiment worthy of getting behind, in my opinion.

Let’s help George Clarke and Mitsubishi Electric spread their message.
Let’s help the millions of people struggling to keep safe and alive this winter.
Let’s do everything within our power to end this crisis NOW.

Please share this article with family, friends and colleagues. Fuel poverty must no longer go unseen.

Joe Bradbury is assistant editor of Housing Association magazine