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Just Keeping Warm by Flickr user Carol

Event report: No More Cold Homes

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the UK who hasn’t griped about the recent spike in their energy bills, but for many of the country’s most vulnerable, rising energy costs are a matter of life and death.

Every year in Britain, over 25,000 people die of the cold. One-third of these deaths are due to cold homes resulting from unaffordable energy bills. Millions more families are also affected, faced with the difficult choice between putting food on their tables and heating their houses.

According to official government figures, fuel poverty affects over five million households in the UK. “This is an embarrassing statistic for a developed country,” says Ed Matthew of the Energy Bill Revolution. “There is real suffering out there and we have to do something about it.”

Currently hovering between definitions, fuel poverty is defined either as when more than ten percent of a family’s disposable income is spent on heating the home, or when paying for the cost of heating results in falling below the poverty threshold. 

And Britain is woefully behind Europe in addressing the problem. According to the 2013 Fuel Poverty League Table, the UK is second only to Estonia in its fuel poverty rates. This alarmingly poor performance is largely due to the quality of the housing construction coupled with high oil, coal and gas prices. Energy inefficient homes allow heat to escape through windows, walls, doors and roofs as well as contributing to increased CO2 emissions.

Fuel poverty was the topic of discussion at the recent ‘No More Cold Homes’ public meeting and debate. The event, which took place in Manchester city centre, was hosted by the Energy Bill Revolution and Friends of the Earth. In truth, the event was not so much of a debate as it was a gathering of engaged citizens coming together to discuss a problem in desperate need of a solution.

The evening began with a panel discussion before opening the floor to questions from an eager audience. The panel was made up of Ed Matthew of the Energy Bill Revolution, Jonathan Reynolds MP (Labour), Chris Davies MEP (Liberal Democrats), Jennifer Gregory of Age Concern Manchester ( and chaired by Dave Coleman.

Ed Matthew opened up the discussion with an articulate outline of the underlying causes of fuel poverty emphasising the importance of investment in the quality of housing stock and energy efficiency in addressing this issue. He suggested that failure to take these factors into account would largely stifle progress – “it’s going to cost a lot of money, but it’s affordable”.

The Energy Bill Revolution is an alliance of charities, advocacy groups, businesses, politicians and the public uniting to ensure warm homes and lower energy bills. The campaign is calling on the UK government to use a carbon tax to invest in improved insulation for the nation’s homes. “Not only would using a carbon tax help to eliminate fuel poverty and address climate change,” says Matthew, “it would also create over 100,000 jobs.” Chris Davies emphasised the importance of learning from best practice and taking a page out of Europe’s playbook. “In terms of an investment, it makes financial sense,” he says. “There are job opportunities here in this field! All we have to do is turn words into action.”

Jonathon Reynolds acknowledged that, while there are challenges with funding allocation, the UK cannot afford to do nothing. “We need to get serious about this being a national infrastructure issue,” he says. “The economic impact is vast, it is very clear that there is a huge spin off here in terms of greater tax revenue.” 

Also discussed at the meeting was the importance of behaviour change in lowering energy bills and cutting carbon emissions. Though behaviour change alone will not solve the problem, it should nevertheless be taken into account. Jennifer Gregory advocates information as being a key part of any behavioural shift. “We have to make people aware of the different consumption points in their homes,” she says. “Long term we would ideally move to a system of taxation—smart metering. If people knew what their kettle was costing them for example, the difference is huge when people can see it.”

Despite the significant progress that has been made on this issue; there is still much work to be done. If you would like to get involved in working towards a solution, visit The Energy Bill Revolution for more information.


Main image from Flickr user Carol published under a Creative Commons licence.