Cold Homes Week – Tackling the issue of fuel poverty

energy efficiency, energy consumption, energy savings, fuel poverty

The Energy Bill Revolution alliance started on 27 February 2012, bringing together over 170 organizations such as health and consumer associations, environmental groups and trade unions, as well as politicians and public figures, in an effort to reduce household energy bills and renovate poorly insulated homes in the UK. This has become a critical issue in a country with the second highest fuel poverty rate among the 28 EU member states. Here is an overview of the largest campaign on fuel poverty ever organized worldwide.

The alarming situation of “cold homes”

The reason for that campaign is that UK homes are among the least energy efficient in Europe. Moreover, high coal, oil and gas prices result in poorly heated homes, causing nearly 7,800 deaths every year. According to a study from the Association for the Conservation of Energy Research published by the Energy Bill Revolution campaign in February 2014, over 2.5 million children live in cold homes, that is one in four UK households; in other words, close to 7 million homes experience fuel poverty, i.e. “have to spend more than 10% of income to maintain an adequate level of energy service”. The renovation and insulation of UK homes is therefore an urgent social issue.

A survey conducted by Rexel UK in April 2013 confirms that fuel poverty is a pervasive issue in Britain: 63% of participants think that insufficient financial means prevent them from undertaking energy efficiency upgrading works, while 92% fear that they may slip into fuel poverty unless something is done to improve the energy efficiency of their homes in the years to come.

Cold Homes Week campaign

On 3 February 2014 the Energy Bill Revolution launched Cold Homes Week, a one-week web and field campaign to raise public awareness and alert politicians on the suffering associated with fuel poverty.

The campaign takes place on the web, with e-mails being sent to MPs and Twitter users being asked to post pictures of themselves wearing scarves (#coldhomesweek).

It also takes place on the ground: public meetings were held in London, Leeds, Manchester, Doncaster and Liverpool. The alliance also encouraged people to knit scarves and send them to their MPs in order to call them to action. A symbolic art installation was set up in front of Westminster to remember the 31,000 people who died of exposure in the UK last winter. Finally, a reception took place at the Parliament on February 4th, with MPs being handed scarves knitted by their constituents.

Moving towards more effective policy

The campaign aims at fostering much needed policy changes on the issue of fuel poverty. While it points out the urgency of tackling the issue and denounces the failings of current policy, the movement also recommends practical solutions, for instance by urging the government to channel the revenue derived from two taxes (the Carbon Floor Price and the European Emissions Trading Scheme) into home retrofit projects. So far this money is not devoted to any particular measure, although it could represent a multi-million-pound investment in energy efficiency upgrading programmes for households. In an article published on price comparison service website, campaign director Ed Matthew explains that 600,000 fuel-poor households could thus be granted an average £ 6,500 every year to undertake thermal renovation works and cut their energy bill by an average of £ 300 annually, which could bring nine out of ten homes out of fuel poverty.

In a report commissioned by the Energy Bill Revolution, economists Prashant Vaze and Louise Sunderland stress that recycling tax carbon revenue into energy efficiency could quadruple CO2 emission reductions in the UK while creating nearly 100,000 jobs in the fields of home-automation and insulation.

On February 12th, only a week after the campaign ended, results are impressive:

  • Hundreds of scarves were knitted and send to MPs;
  • 232 of them publicly endorsed the movement ;
  • #coldhomesweek was tagged in more than 7,000 tweets;
  • Over 20,000 people signed the online petition.

Cold Homes Week is therefore a successful campaign and others in Europe will undoubtedly take inspiration from it.

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