Community action on warmer homes, lower bills, and a healthier Oxfordshire

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By Henry Owen, CAG Project Officer

It’s that time of year again, with the evenings drawing in and the clocks about to change, when I start pull on an extra jumper in the evening and think about putting the heating on. Luckily for me, this is a luxury I can currently afford. But for around 10.4% of all English households, this isn’t the case1.

Fuel poverty in the UK

Fuel Poverty is a huge and increasingly well recognised issue in the UK (thanks to the work of many organisations such as Fuel Poverty ActionNational Energy Action (NEA)The End Fuel Poverty Coalition, and The National Energy Foundation). As The NEA puts it2:

There are around 4.5 million UK households in fuel poverty, but statistics alone cannot illustrate the true extent of suffering. Living in fuel poverty means being unable to afford to heat your home to a comfortable and healthy level. It means turning off the heating even though you are ill and it’s freezing outside because you are terrified of falling into debt. It means going without food for two days so you can top up your pre-payment meter to keep the house warm for your children. And it means that what should be a basic human right to live in a warm dry home, is in fact for many, an increasingly unachievable aspiration.

Fuel poverty affects the vulnerable in our society worst, but people of all ages suffer due to fuel poverty. For example, according to the National Union of Students3, 78% of students said they felt uncomfortably cold at home over winter, and 79% said they either turned the heating off or hesitated to use it because they were worried about high fuel bills.

Talking about the issue of fuel poverty is important. But as we all know, how we communicate about issues like this is important too. When talking about energy efficiency and fuel poverty, it’s important to use inclusive language that doesn’t stigmatise those who we’re aiming to support. For that reason, I and many others prefer to talk about ‘affordable warmth’ rather than fuel poverty, focusing on top tips, and easy inexpensive actions to take. The brilliant Climate Outreach will be running a session at our Skill Share in November about just this issue if you’re keen to hear more.

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Taking action for affordable warmth

Many CAGs are at the forefront of creative community-led efforts for affordable warmth for all in Oxfordshire – carrying out a huge range of projects and events. I’ve listed a small selection of what CAGs get up to below:

  • Pioneering projects such as Project ERIC, enabling communities to work together to create and store reliable and cheap energy.
  • Bulk buying of sustainable woodfuel for off-grid rural communities.
  • Making energy efficiency information accessible, e.g. lightbulb libraries and film screenings.
  • Thermal imaging, to suggest small, targeted, home improvements to increase energy efficiency where it is needed most.
  • Working with Oxford City Council to identify homes that could most benefit from winter warmth grants.

 

So wha2t are the results from all of this hard work?

In 2014/15, across the network CAGs helped residents save over 900,000 KwH, worth over £90,000 in energy bills.

Jeremy Leggett, speaking to The Guardian about the best ways to tackle climate change, said:

“In ‘bangs for the buck’, energy efficiency wins over everything else. You can start in the home. You can go to a fast-mobilising community network like CAG Oxfordshire. If there isn’t such a group in your county, you can start one!”

What can you do?

If you live in Oxfordshire and want to get in touch with your nearest CAG then have a look at our map, or get in touch.

If you’d like advice and support for your own circumstances and you live in Oxfordshire, see here.

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More information on Fuel Poverty can be found on The National Energy Foundation website.

Government statistics on Energy Poverty can be found here.

  1. Annual Fuel Povery Statistics Report 2015
  2. http://www.nea.org.uk/campaigns-events/warm-homes-campaign

3. http://www.nus.org.uk/en/greener-projects/greener-research/how-cold-is-your-student-house-/