Britain is a modern and technologically vibrant country. As we stride into the 21st century barely a day goes by without some new scientific breakthrough, discovery or wonder gadget being trumpeted.
This just underlines how important energy is to our everyday lives. From robotic carers to smart computers, our access to energy will continue to be one of the defining measures of our economic well-being.
Yet almost two decades into this energy essential century almost 2.5 million of us are still being forced to choose, quite shamefully, between heating and eating. This is a scandal in one of the world’s richest countries.
It’s one of the main reasons an estimated 43,900 Excess Winter Deaths were recorded across England and Wales last year. That’s the highest figure since 1999 and a shocking increase of 27%.
We know 80% of Excess Winter Deaths were amongst the over-75s. Often on low incomes, living in poor, badly-insulated housing stock and dependent on expensive pre-payment meters – it’s simply unaffordable for many to keep their home warm. Unsurprisingly, after the elderly, lone parents and the unemployed are most likely to fall into this group.
Isabella and Robin Carlos and their young daughter are one such family. I met them living in their housing association home in Islington. Isabella is a full-time mum and also a carerfor Carlos who has recently been diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition. No longer able to work, in the time it took for Carlos’s disability benefits to be approved, the family slipped into more than £500 worth of debt with EDF Energy.
Forced onto an expensive pre-payment meter, EDF now deduct part of that debt every-time they put money on the meter, making their fuel poverty even more acute. With no effective wall insulation, their home, including their daughter’s room, is now cold and festooned with damp.
It doesn’t have to be this way. A compassionate, economically-literate and forward thinking government wouldnot just see the benefit of energy efficiency schemes, but make them a national infrastructure priority. Not only would they help the poorest with their fuel bills but it would help us as a country tackle the challenge of climate change, which threatens us with worsening flooding.
Instead this Government has scrapped, cut and demolished schemes brought in to alleviate fuel poverty by the last Labour Government. But it doesn’t end there. Despite their whopping multi-billion pound profits the Tories are going to let the ‘Big Six’ energy companies cut the number of homes they insulate each year. This will mean millions of households are left paying hundreds of pounds more for their energy than they would have done otherwise.
It’s why Labour are this week calling on the Government to rethink these cuts and to make home energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority. Ultimately the cheapest and securest energy we’ll have as a country is the energy we never use.
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