Guest Blog by Chris Farrell
Following the recent shocking headlines of over 1000 preventable deaths occurring at Stafford hospital, I had a thought. Whilst of course any loss of life is tragic, the number of deaths involved in this scandal pale in comparison to the 24,000 excess winter deaths the UK faced last winter. Yet, this massive figure seems to be somewhat ignored by the media, MPs, and most importantly Government legislation, in favour of perhaps more “interesting” or, dare I say newsworthy stories.
You could argue that increased deaths in winter are unavoidable, and it is true that death rates do rise in winter for a majority of developed nations. However, the UK (with its average of 18% more deaths) is lagging substantially behind much of Europe, and this is even when compared to countries with similar or even colder climates than ours such as Germany and Finland (average of 10% more deaths).
Therefore, UK Citizens who are currently at risk from the cold weather are nearly twice as likely to die as our European neighbours.
Given that a minimum of 10% of winter deaths can be directly attributed to fuel poverty (DECC’s Hill Report, 2011), tackling fuel poverty is clearly vital in reducing needless winter deaths, improving the living situation for millions of vulnerable people in the UK (1.6 million children are now in fuel poverty), and helping the country to address the spiralling domestic energy market.
Improving the energy efficiency of UK homes strikes me as perhaps the best way for us to do this, particularly in the short term, when we need simple, low cost options to help stabilise the situation, which in light of soaring energy prices, looks like it will only get worse. Improved energy efficiency will ensure fewer people die as a result of being unable to heat his or her home, a fate that no UK citizen should face.
This is not to mention the wider economic benefits that improving energy efficiency will have for the UK. Housing benefit currently represents the highest portion of UK benefit spending, at around 16%. By improving the environmental and financial sustainability of our current housing stock, we can provide substantial savings for the UK welfare bill. Furthermore, supporting energy efficiency will improve the UK’s balance of trade and improve our debt situation, particularly important in light of our recent credit rating downgrade. If we reduce the amount of energy we use and therefore need to import, and also increase our exports (as we can export our energy efficient technologies and expertise around the world), the effect on the UK economy could be profound.
Our economy, social wellbeing and environment are all interconnected. By making even one small change, such as improving the energy efficiency of UK homes, we can have a positive knock on effect on the whole nation.
That’s why the Cheaper Energy Together initiative is directly targeting the fuel poor. Using the funding provided by a grant from DECC, the Community Partnership is using their combined power as local charities, advice providers, social housing associations and councils to get those who aren’t in the ‘switching classes’ to join their collective switch, with the potential to save hundreds of pounds as a result. They are also providing advice about the various government grants and schemes available to improve home efficiency as well as easy steps all of us can do to make our homes more energy efficient and thus reduce the debilitating effect of soaring energy bills. Such community action could go a long way to attack the complacency and inertia which has become a common feature of the public’s approach towards their energy costs. A more holistic understanding of energy, in which we understand that energy companies aren’t the only party which add to our bills unnecessarily, will go a long way to reducing fuel poverty and our nation’s carbon footprint.
Another action that we can take as individuals is to pressure our local MPs, and let them know we care. Early Day Motion 841: Energy Efficiency and Reduction of Energy Costs bill, currently doing the rounds amongst MPs, represents a clear step forward for the government in addressing this issue, and needs further support.
Currently only 1 in 5 MPs has signed the motion, and you have to ask yourself why this figure is so low. To my mind there is simply no reason not to support the bill. Is it that MPs don’t know about it? Do they not think fuel poverty is an issue worth addressing? Or do they just simply not care? I would urge readers to contact your MP and let them know they should not be ignoring this issue. The more signatures the bill receives, the more likely it is to be debated at the House of Commons and hopefully enter the political agenda, to the benefit of the UK and it’s vulnerable citizens.
The full list of MPs who have signed the motion is available here. Please, write to your MP if they haven’t signed and let them know they need to take note, to support fuel poverty reduction and help their constituents, and the wider UK. After all, it’s now a matter of life and death.
About the author:
Chris Farrell is managing director of Zenex Technologies, a British company specialising in innovative energy saving products for both the domestic and commercial markets. Read more of his blog posts here or follow him on Twitter.