Many, including National Energy Action (NEA) and the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), have welcomed the announcement by the Labour Party that it will introduce measures to tackle fuel poverty in this country.
As you would expect, the two take different approaches to giving their endorsements – the FMB see it as an opportunity to stimulate the house building sector, while the charity is concerned with the plight of those who either fight to keep their families warm or, with the elderly and disabled, just to stay alive. (See the accompanying news item.)
Both bodies express their frustration with the state of housing in the UK and the failure of so much of the housing stock to meet basic needs of those that live in it.
“Our housing stock is among the oldest and least energy efficient in Europe….” Say Brian Berry, Chief Executive, FMB. Jenny Saunders, Chief Executive, NEA, points out that the Treasury needs only to release a modest amount of the revenue it has for the infrastructure budget to make real inroads into fuel poverty.
There are two points to be made here.
If Brian Berry is right about the quality of the housing stock in the UK, it says very little for the calibre of politicians that have governed us for so long. And I say that having just been to the poorest country in Europe – Albania.
As far as the views of NEA, what are we to say about the 4.1 million households who experience fuel poverty? For a country that boasts that it is either the fifth or sixth richest in the world, very little.
Perhaps this last figure comes as the most damning but that we seem to have a collective shrug of the shoulders at this time every year. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), approximately 20,000 more elderly people die in the winter months than any other time of the year. This depends on the severity or otherwise of the winter period but these figures are not disputed.
Let me put this in context:
In the 30 or so years of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, about 3,500 people were killed, including security forces, paramilitaries and civilians. The loss of life of allied forces was in the hundreds during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (much more if you were unfortunate to live in those countries).
We tend to concentrate on loss of life when it is dramatic and we see bombs fall and hospitals full of wounded and dead. But when it comes to the passing away of thousands of elderly people because of one factor – the failure to keep their homes warm and comfortable – the politicians have only really offered lame platitudes.
What does it really say about the country we live in that can see luxury houses built for many who will come from abroad for a shopping trip, or as a speculative investment while failing to provide accommodation for those who worked all their lives in it?
Alas, the cynic in me believes that the answer will be the usual – after the General Election, the bare minimum.
Caption The elderly continue to die in thousands in the UK during winter, but if we are as rich as we say we are, why are poor housing and heating tolerated?