Two gas rings burning

‘Tackle fuel poverty to prevent winter COVID-19 deaths,’ PM is urged

Evidence shows fuel poverty puts households more at risk from worst effects of virus.
23 June 2020 , Katie Coyne

Charities have called on the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to take urgent action to end fuel poverty and protect vulnerable households from COVID-19.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition, of which CIEH is a member, has written to the PM urging him to take action to prevent “tens of thousands of needless deaths, which could overwhelm the country this coming winter”.

They point to evidence from Public Health England indicating that fuel poverty puts households more at risk from the worst effects of COVID-19, which is especially worrying should a second wave of the virus hit during the colder months.

Poor quality housing already costs the NHS around £1.4bn and wider society around £18bn every year.

A campaign statement said: “Should a second wave of COVID-19 hit during the cold weather, the impact could be catastrophic for individuals and our health services.

“Household energy use is rising as people stay at home more, incomes are being squeezed and improvements in energy efficiency of housing are on hold.”

While there is no cure for COVID-19, cold homes are “entirely preventable” the campaign argues, and it puts forward four action points that need to be carried out to tackle the problem.

These include extension of the Warm Home Discount and introduction of the Home Upgrade Grants, Rapid roll-out of large scale energy efficiency programmes, improving energy efficiency in the PRS, and Fuel Poverty Debt Relief (rather than deferral).

CIEH policy and campaigns manager Tamara Sandoul said: “At the beginning of 2020, energy efficiency of our housing stock was finally due to be given the funding and priority that it deserves. However, the start of the pandemic has meant that the government’s March budget has omitted any funding for these measures.

“But all the problems and costs associated with cold, uninsulated homes are not going away: we need an ambitious, long-term and well funded programme to begin to make real improvements to the efficiency of our homes across all sectors.

“In the short term, we need to plan for a possible second spike in infections in the colder winter months and the effect that this will have on fuel bills, fuel poverty and people’s health and wellbeing.”

Sandoul argued that EHPs could play a greater role in tackling cold homes if EH teams were given lead enforcement over EPCs in the private rented sector and local authorities were provided with access to a free standard heat loss calculator. Clear guidance on possible enforcement action for unaffordable heating systems is also needed.

There are also huge environmental impacts of not tackling cold homes, as this will make it difficult for the government to meet its 2050 net zero carbon emissions target. The government also made an election promise to support the green economy.

The campaign wants the government to confirm its pledge to invest £9.2bn in building energy efficiency, and to bring forward the £2.8bn funding pot to invest in the next two years so as to support 42,500 jobs and help a million households make an average saving on their energy bills of £270.

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