It’s December now and with the coldest months of the calendar just around the corner, Lincolnshire faces the issue of fuel poverty—when people cannot afford to adequately heat their homes.
According to the last available data from Lincolnshire County Council, in 2016 nearly 38,000 households in the county were in this dire situation.
For the worst cases, it can be deadly. Between 2013 and 2017, around 9,700 people in the UK have died due to a cold home according to research by National Energy Action and climate-change think tank E3G.
Last winter, which included the devastating ‘Beast from the East’ snowstorm also contributed to 50,100 excess deaths across all England and Wales according to the Office for National Statistics. This was the worst winter for excess deaths since 1976.
Fuel Poverty Hits Pensioners
For older people who are more vulnerable to the cold, fuel poverty can be particularly serious. Responders to Warmth (R2W) are one of the few organisations offering emergency solutions in Lincolnshire.
“Our beneficiaries are predominantly older people, who are fiercely independent and have never had charitable support before,” said R2W Director Ian Pepperdine.
The Community Interest Company provides electric blankets, fleeces, oil filled radiators, and other solutions to those that ring their emergency hotline from October until March.
In their experience, fuel poverty is more of an issue with older homeowners and not necessarily those in social housing or private renting, who already have safety nets in place.
“Real fuel poverty in Lincolnshire exists, predominantly down the East Coast, they’re people who own their own properties and who live off their pensions,” said Mr Pepperdine.
This he says, “may be sufficient to eat and pay for heating, but it’s not sufficient when things go drastically wrong”.
All people over 65 are entitled to a winter fuel payment from the government and there is further support for low-income households via the Warm Home Discount and Cold Weather Payment schemes. However, thousands are still falling through the net in Lincolnshire.
Mr. Pepperdine added: “There will always be more need than we have money to satisfy, so we try to respond to the people in greatest need.
“We’ve been telling the Energy Saving Trust for a number of years, ‘look can we talk with you about what you’re doing, you’re just signposting, but you’re not actually putting any money into emergency services for people who are cold.'”
The Energy Efficiency Solution
Broadly, the government is aiming to tackle fuel poverty by promoting energy efficiency. The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) encouraged larger energy suppliers to help lower-income households upgrade, while the Green Deal saw the government support people buying double-glazing, solid wall insulation, and boiler upgrades. However, both schemes have ended without much success.
“The biggest problem is that these programmes are simply too timid compared to the scale of the problem of fuel poverty that we face in this country,” said charity Age UK in their fuel poverty report.