Mervyn Kohler is a special advisor at Age UK.
All blogs are the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Age.
Keeping adequately warm, at an affordable cost, is fundamental to health and wellbeing. That applies to everyone, but especially to older people, whose activity levels may be lower, and whose sensory awareness of cold conditions is diminished. The litany of consequences from living in cold homes, from exacerbated cardiovascular and respiratory ailments, through worry, anxiety, arthritis and dizziness (leading to falls), is well known and at the sharp end is captured by the annual 'excess winter deaths' data which shames Britain's civilised status.
We could subsidise fuel costs at a personal level, and, to some extent do - with the Cold Weather Payments, Warm Homes Discount, and the Winter Fuel Payment. But this is a daft, short-term use of public money when the real problem is our chronically poor quality housing stock - designed and built years ago when energy efficiency was an unknown concept.
We can't tear down all of our old and inefficient housing stock - some of it, in good weather, is rather attractive as well as being necessary. But we know much more about how to insulate it and improve its thermal efficiency, and this is what must be done, with a 'Marshall Aid' style approach. On the way, we would generate jobs (especially in local small businesses), we'd promote new technologies with potential for exports, we'd save fuel imports and cut down carbon emissions, and above all we'd give people better health prospects and offer the overstretched health services a breather. If there is better infrastructure programme on the table, then bring it on.
One third of our households are headed by a person of pensionable age, many living in fuel poverty. Responding to a Government brief to find a more elegant definition for fuel poverty, Professor Hills noted two things about fuel poverty: it was a separate and distinct issue from poverty (because it could be addressed by finite housing fixes rather than endless subsidies), and that it cost the state huge sums in health and social care support. Whilst his proposed definition reduced the headcount of households in fuel poverty, it was still a big number, and rising. We live at the mercy of global energy costs, unless we take the issue into our own hands and fix our clapped out housing stock.
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