Blog by Graham Duxbury
We shouldn’t overlook the critical role of charities and housing associations in helping people stay warm and well this winter
Combating fuel poverty used to be seen as a bricks and mortar issue. The aim was to eradicate cold, damp homes through a programme of refurbishment – new windows, efficient boilers, loft and cavity insulation. Social housing providers led the way on providing decent homes for those who were vulnerable. Despite that enormous investment, fuel poverty hasn’t gone away and higher than average numbers of excess winter deaths are forecast this year. More people may live in more energy efficient homes, but their utility bills have risen out of step with their wages. For those out of work, benefits have been capped and underpinned by the threat of sanctions.
Lifting people out of fuel poverty is now a more complex task, involving not just improving the physical fabric of homes but changing the behaviours of residents and helping them live more economically. Housing associations have been at the forefront of these efforts for social and environmental reasons. The advent of Universal Credit and the need to ensure tenants live within their means now provide an economic imperative too.
A reduction in energy bills is on the horizon, but with politicians of all parties pointing to another five years of spending reductions we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the problem will be going away any time soon. So what can be done?
What can be done?
There are a range of initiatives and services available around the country designed to help vulnerable people: the government’s Big Energy Saving Network is funding champions who are recruiting volunteers to run outreach sessions; Groundwork’s Green Doctors are going door to door in many parts of the country providing practical help, support and signposting to other services; Citizens Advice Bureau are advising those most in need through their Energy Best Deal.
The truth is, however, that these initiatives – all of which deliver great results – are not reaching everybody that needs them. Neither are they fully integrated with the wider range of health and social care services often aimed at the same vulnerable people. The good news is that local charities and housing associations are well placed to make this happen, as the first step is being trusted enough to be allowed over the threshold – something that is much harder to achieve if your first words are ‘I’m from the council’, or worse still ‘I’m from your energy supplier’. Then the job inside the home is to address as many issues as possible, knowing how to refer someone to a health visitor, where to go for benefits advice or how to access hardship funds.
With hospital admissions at record levels and emergency plans in place, we only need to turn on the news to recognise that the NHS is ‘having a bad winter’. The more we can all do to keep people safe and well in their own homes the better.
This is an abridged version of a blog written for Inside Housing. You can read the full blog here.
Hear Clare's story to see how our Green Doctor energy efficiency experts are helping people to keep warm and safe this winter.
Post by Graham Duxbury, Chief Executive,