Addressing fuel poverty together

Cross-organisational partnerships are blossoming. For the Age Action Alliance this is a given, but the pattern is moving into government, private sector and voluntary and community sector thinking with momentum.   This was very clear at a meeting hosted by Islington LBC, and showcasing issues where fuel poverty problems were being addressed by bringing together a range of relevant players.   Fuel poverty has always been everybody’s cousin but nobody’s baby, but is an issue where energy and health interests co-incide, and community interests and community engagement are essential to delivering sensible outcomes.

The event in Islington showed what was being achieved.   In the tangled world of energy policy, there are three strands worth watching.

  • The Government is no longer funding local government with support for top-down programmes: instead it is opening funds for which organisations can bid.   Relatively small amounts (for the introduction of the Green Deal, or the Warm Homes Healthy People fund) are offered, with a welcome criteria that requires local government to involve the voluntary and commercial sectors as partners.
  • There is no money in the public sector for energy issues after April next year:  all activity in energy improvements has been out-sourced to the energy companies and others who have opted to deliver elements of the Green Deal programme.   If local organisations are looking for cash injections to work on these issues, the people with cash to offer are the obligated energy suppliers.
  • The health sector has a lot to gain by paying more attention to the issue of fuel poverty.   There are substantial savings to be made by making homes more energy efficient and warmer, and by raising people’s awareness to the problems engendered by cold weather.

The Islington event showed, with exemplar schemes and projects, that there were ways forward.    There is also an excellent report from Consumer Focus to provide further chapter and verse.   But the key point is that without buy-in from local community organisations with a trusted root in their local communities to advise vulnerable householders, and without local businesses with a trusted ability to deliver relevant services, there would be little progress.

In different parts of the country and in different localities, we have different names to describe the ways we are addressing winter pressures and the problems of the fuel poor.   This is not helpful.   Saving gigawatts with better boiler efficiency, saving excessive water consumption, saving with thermostatic radiator valves- savings both to consumers individually and the domestic energy sector in general – have got to be good   But we need to frame the issue in terms which ordinary people will understand.   The key to promoting energy efficiency is to stress the benefits to health from warmer homes, and the benefits to budgets from cheaper bills.

The more innovative and imaginative councils get the message:  they see the benefit of energy improvement policies in terms of generating local jobs, and helping householders with benefit checks which also puts more money into the local economy.   The Health Authorities see fewer people putting ‘winter pressures’ on services.   Energy companies have obligations to reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency, and need partners to identify the appropriate households to address.   With shared referral processes, residents receive help not just in separate and isolated interventions, but can become part of a process which recognises that multiple needs require multiple solutions.   And the voluntary and community services can add support, encouragement and credibility to the whole edifice.

There are really exciting developments beginning to flourish.   Older people comprise about half the households in fuel poverty, and suffer some of the worst outcomes from cold weather and cold homes.   So this activity makes a really positive contribution to their well-being.

 

Mervyn Kohler

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