This post is a collaboration with University of Kent students. The opinions in this piece are those of our guest blogger and do not necessarily represent those held by Sustainability Connections.
Guest blog by: Charlie Harteley
NEA Birmingham Seminar
I was lucky enough to attend the NEA (National Energy Action) ‘Warm and Safe at Home’ seminar.
We were introduced to Maria Wardrobe; the Director of Communications and External Relations at NEA. Having received a warm welcome, Wardrobe proceeded to lead the seminar with NEA’s programme for the following year, mentioning the difference they planned to make to the UK.
Having introduced the subject of discussion – Warm and Safe at Home, Wardrobe proceeded to hand over to Peter Smith, NEA’s Director of Policy and Research. Smith’s main topic was reducing ill health associated with cold homes. This is a major problem in the UK with a fifth of winter deaths attributed to insufficiently-heated homes, and with children raised in cold houses twice as likely to develop respiratory problems than those in warm homes. Cold housing is also linked to mental health, with teenagers five times more likely to have a mental health disorder if they live in an inefficient home (nhfshare.heartforum.org.uk).
Partnerships for Warmth
The NEA is reliant on working closely with their partners, such as The End Fuel Poverty Coalition, The Association of Local Energy Officers (ALEO), and The Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG). NEA also works on a cross-party basis to help further their goals in Government. The NEA had key recommendations on what the UK needed for warm and safer homes:
Illness in Cold Homes
Leading on from NEA targets and partnerships, we were then shown evidence to demonstrate the difficulties of ill health in relation to inadequate accommodation. A report from the WHO in 2011 illustrated that deaths from cardiovascular disease are directly linked to exposure to excessively low indoor temperatures for long periods of time. Furthermore, 50-70% of Excess Winter Deaths (EWDs) are due to cardiovascular conditions, and 15-33% because of respiratory conditions. Children in cold homes are twice as likely to suffer from respiratory illnesses, and 30% of EWDs are due to cold houses (as estimated by the WHO), it is madness that this can continue. Even a decrease in 1°C in temperature is enough to increase blood pressure in those aged 65-74.
Whilst the physical complications of cold homes are well-known, many people don’t seem to be aware of the mental effects. Those in cold homes are more at risk of mental illness than their warm homed counterparts. This is due to a variety of reasons, such as:
Those who present the most risk of serious health problems due to cold homes are the elderly, children, and those who have long term health conditions. Within the UK, 3.5 million vulnerable households where unable to heat their homes to acceptable levels last year – an increase of half a million from the previous year. As a result, over 9,600 people in the UK are dying on average due to the conditions of their homes.
The NEA’s recommendations for the future include a UK-wide recognition of the impact of cold homes on health, improved transparency and resources that reflect the costs of not taking action. For example, the NHS annual cost of treating the effects of cold housing is estimated at over £850 million. This ‘does not include additional spending by social services, or economic losses through absences from work’ (nhfshare.heartforum.org.uk).
Later on, representatives of Ofgem shared details on various schemes they administer to those in need. The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is a Government efficiency scheme for the UK that helps to reduce carbon emissions and tackle fuel poverty. Large energy providers are regulated so that they deliver energy efficient measures to homes around the country. Targets are given based on the company’s share of the gas and electricity market. The scheme also supports the installation of insulation into vulnerable homes.
Another Ofgem scheme is that of the Warm Home Discount (WHD), which provides help to those in or at risk of fuel poverty in the UK. Run by the Government, participating energy suppliers deliver support to those in need by either giving £140 energy bill rebates to customers, or through supplying customers with access to third parties that aim to help reduce fuel poverty.
The seminar was an amazing eye-opener into the world of cold housing and the inability to heat one’s home. Before leaving on the day, we had a group discussion about the lack of money to help those in desperate need. At the moment, ECO is the only remaining efficiency scheme in the England. It’ll run for five years from April 2017, and the UK Government has highlighted that it would help the crisis of fuel poverty. What does the future hold for those in fuel poverty – will there be any initiatives in place to replace ECO in 2022?
Stephanie Karpetas works with communities, businesses and public sector organisations, helping shape and deliver programmes that make sustainable development feasible and fun. Stephanie has recently set up Sustainability Connections CIC and is working on low carbon projects in Kent and Europe. She is a Co-founder and Director of Action Women! Community CIC