Friday, 21 January 2011

Fuel Poverty

Today, it's so cold I have my heater on, I'm wearing a coat and walking boots as I write and I'm still not what you'd call warm!  Yorkshire and Humberside have the second highest levels of fuel poverty in England with 160,000 or 7.7% of households designated as suffering from fuel poverty and 123,000 in danger of falling into it, a report called Fuel Poverty, the Hard, Cold Facts tells us. You can read about this on the Yorkshire Futures website at Households that spend more than 10% of their disposable income on fuel are deemed fuel poor and those who spend more than 20% are said to be in severe fuel poverty. The causes are a combination of low income, rising fuel prices, lack of alternative sources of energy (specially applicable in rural areas), poor energy efficiency and under occupancy of a building. Homes where people are in and out all day (true of farms and vicarages) are particularly hard to keep heated. Adequate warmth is said to be 21 degrees centigrade in the living room and 18 degrees in other rooms occupied during the daytime. Poor heating leads to increased levels of illness, especially in children and the very elderly and, in the most extreme cases, an excessive number of winter deaths in the population. Britain is more vulnerable to high levels of winter deaths than many northern European countries.

So what can we do? Well obvious things like making sure houses are insulated, heating only the rooms we need to use, trying to share the heated space in the house rather than use different rooms and shopping around for the best power deals. Wood stoves and combination fuel burners give good value. But the problem is set to get worse as oil and other fuel prices rise. (I'm definitely getting a lot fewer miles for £30.00 of diesel since November). There is an organisation called National Energy Action which campaigns for warmer homes. Their web site has lots of useful information under the 'grants' section including useful tips for keeping your home warmer.  There is also talk on the Unison website of campaigning for a fuel tariff where vulnerable householders pay a reduced tariff for their fuel compared with other customers.

In this very cold weather it's vital, too, to be extra aware of elderly people and to make sure neighbours are OK and getting a hot meal every day and regular hot drinks.

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