Change Agents UK and Dudley Council have teamed up again for winter 2016/17 as part of Dudley’s Winter Warmth programme with the objective of tackling the issues of fuel poverty; specifically the impacts of cold homes on health and wellbeing in a continuation of practices from previous years. These visits have been an attempt to improve the living standards of those choosing whether to heat or to eat. The Dudley borough is particularly hard hit in regards to fuel poverty, based on its statistical comparison on several factors of deprivation such as poor housing stock, low incomes and health indicators.
Two months into the 2016/17 iteration of the Winter Warmth programme, over 250 home visits have been completed since November and the weather is getting colder. These visits have tackled a wide range of issues including large amounts of energy debt, a high level of disengagement from energy matters and a lack of awareness on available help for those who need it.
The core aims of these visits are to raise awareness of the health impacts and introduce preventative measures, whether this is by simply providing a blanket and hot water bottle or by larger-scale means from home adaptations and energy efficiency installations such as insulation of the building fabric and heating system upgrades. They also seek to improve the financial situation of residents by looking at price comparison for energy companies and tariffs – wherein elderly residents have been reluctant due to perceived difficulty, anxiety or misguided loyalty – and to see what further support is available for those on benefits.
Many of those visited have expressed relief that answers to their problems and questions have been available and that certain aspects of ingrained behaviour that went unquestioned beforehand had also been highlighted, which could save money and energy. As such, behavioural advice to residents has also been a big success story with many being surprised at the running costs of their everyday appliances such as the difference between boiling a full kettle and just a cup’s worth.
Increased awareness through the visits provided by energy officers has worked to improve Dudley’s rates of excess winter deaths and fuel poverty, which have previously been some of the highest in the country. That said, there was a 30% increase in respiratory related excess winter deaths during winter 2015/16 compared to that of 2013/4 and that there are approximately 23% more cases of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease compared to non-winter months. This shows that despite the considerable improvements made by the Winter Warmth team at Dudley, this is still a work in progress. Fuel poverty officers hope to address these figures and make a positive impact on the ground and carry positive developments into the future.