This blog was written by Danni Barnes, Director of Operations at National Energy Action for Community Energy Fortnight.
The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on each and every one of us, but without question, there are many people for whom the suffering will be far more extreme. We know that individuals reliant on a low income are less able to absorb any kind of income shock and our advisers are seeing a substantial increase in the number of calls coming into our Warm and Safe Homes Advice service from people not knowing where to turn regarding benefit entitlement, unable to top up their meter or unsure how to respond to spiralling debt.
We are yet to understand the true scale of the impact on peoples financial, physical and mental health and wellbeing, but we know the UK is heading for a recession and the impacts of the pandemic will be felt for many years to come, so it is important we use these unprecedented circumstances to take a considered view of recovery and ultimately, to quote our colleagues at Sustainability First, ‘build back better’.
Before the pandemic set in, we already knew 2.4 million people were living in fuel poverty in England, unable to heat their homes adequately, this number is likely to be much higher now, 88% of those were living in a home with an EPC efficiency rating of Band D or below, and we were seeing an average of 10,000 excess winter deaths every year, at least a third of which attributable to illnesses related to living in a cold home, including respiratory conditions.
A reflection on the current situation makes for stark reading, at the time of writing there have been:
- Over 3 million individuals submitting new claims for Universal Credit since lockdown took effect
- Over 8.9 million people furloughed as part of the Government’s job retention scheme,
- Over 2.6 million applications for self-employed Government grants
The Money and Pensions Service evidence and insight paper into Financial Wellbeing, published on 2nd June 2020, shows that around a fifth of adults are struggling to pay their bills (including essentials), and around a fifth of people are reporting concerns around their mental health.
But despite this bleak picture, there is also opportunity, opportunity to do things better, to focus on a greener future as part of the recovery and to build on the community cohesion that in many towns and cities has been demonstrable throughout the pandemic. To take advantage of those opportunities it becomes more critical than ever for us to work together, harnessing mutual experiences and expertise to influence policy makers, ensure individuals can seek help no matter where they live, and together help ensure our recovery is centred around how we support vulnerable and low income households to best effect.
As we slowly emerge from lockdown, the pandemic has not finished, Covid 19 sadly continues to take the lives of people every day and we must work together to support our communities. Local initiatives will play a huge part in the recovery, in supporting community cohesion whilst also helping bring communities on the journey towards net zero.
So where can we start;
- NEA has developed a series of wider recommendations for responding to the debt situation within our paper The Gathering Storm which we encourage you to read and share.
- We encourage local community energy groups to support the extension of the Warm Home Discount Industry Initiative which funds much needed advice and support for individuals who are struggling.
- With the support of Smart Energy GB, NEA has developed resources in numerous languages to support individuals with energy efficiency tips and to raise awareness of the support available during the pandemic. They can be downloaded here.
- NEAs training team has transitioned our most popular face to face training into supported e-learning and webinars, many of these are currently available without charge for non-commercial organisations so if you engage with consumers take advantage of this free opportunity to upskill your teams.
- Join our series of online forums to network with like minded colleagues, find out what is happening in your region, and help us to build up a picture of what inclusive recovery looks like for low income and vulnerable households.
As lockdown begins to ease and, as a country we consider our economic recovery plan, we must address those preventable factors that aggravate respiratory illnesses and create or exacerbate other serious health conditions. By kick-starting a nationwide home and public sector energy efficiency retrofitting programme - starting with fuel poor households and social housing – the UK can directly save lives. Such a programme will also put people back to work , address regional variances in economic deprivation and provide a major stimulus to the economy These actions would also help reduce poor air quality which also damages respiratory health and reduce carbon emissions to make a direct contribution to meeting the UK Government’s goal of becoming net zero. The recurring crisis of early death and ill health caused by cold homes will not abate by itself. We look forward to working with the Community Energy sector to take actions that will prevent such a crisis, stimulate the economy and help society to ‘build back better’.