Unsurprisingly, the elderly are most affected with more than a third of deaths, as detailed in the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, caused by health conditions such as respiratory illnesses which are made worse by cold temperatures. The problem is further exacerbated in rural areas where a higher proportion of people live in fuel poverty and so cannot afford to adequately heat their homes to stay warm and well.
Over the 2016/17 winter period, England and Wales saw an estimated 34,300 excess winter deaths – a rise of almost 40% and the second highest level for five years. This equates to 11 elderly people dying unnecessarily every hour
National Pensioners Convention Fuel Poverty Briefing Paper November 2017
In March 2016, the budget for the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) – the main scheme to help fuel poor households become more energy efficient – was slashed by 40% to £640 million, resulting in the number of boiler upgrades carried out under the scheme falling within the first month alone by 83% to just 1,211 installations.
The move away from new boiler installations has left many fuel poor households across England and Wales with no other option than to continue wasting money they can ill afford to lose on inefficient heating systems when a simple boiler upgrade could cut their fuel bills by over £300 a year or some 20%.
“For too long now Government has recognised the interlinked issues of fuel poverty and excess winter deaths, describing the situation as ‘scandalous’ and ‘unacceptable’, said Paul Rose, OFTEC CEO.
“Yet policy to address the problem remains painfully inadequate. Changes to ECO have seen insulation become the key priority. Whilst insulation is a welcome step, it will not solve the issue of fuel poverty by itself, particularly as many rural properties were built pre-1920, making them difficult to cost effectively treat.
“We strongly urge government to continue ECO beyond September 2018 with a renewed focus on boiler replacements in rural areas as part a series of measures required to tackle the fuel poverty crisis at its root.”
“Whilst continuing to support oil heating in the short term may seem to go against the tide of carbon reduction efforts, we think it could provide an important part of the jigsaw. Upgrading the estimated 400,000 old, inefficient oil boilers still in use would deliver immediate financial and carbon reduction benefits for their owners and the government. It would also mean that all oil using homes are ready to accommodate the roll out of a low carbon liquid fuel replacement for kerosene, which our industry is working hard to bring to market during the 2020s.”