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by Amrita Poptani
14 December 2021
Associate Feature: Fuel poverty & climate change: Their inextricable & unavoidable link

Associate Feature: Fuel poverty & climate change: Their inextricable & unavoidable link

Both fuel poverty and net zero are exacerbated by poor insulation and energy inefficient housing - but before diving deeper, let’s touch on these often discussed but rarely understood buzzwords. There are various poverty measures; a common one defines it as those living in households with income below 60% of the yearly median. Meanwhile, a household experiencing fuel poverty can be understood as one that cannot afford to keep adequately warm at a reasonable cost, given their income. Spending on heating would push them below the official poverty line. In our battle against climate change, net zero refers to a point in time when we no longer add more carbon to the atmosphere than we are removing.   

As of 2020, around 26 million people in the UK were in poverty. Of that, 2.4 million are social renters. These statistics raise several questions: How many of these people are fuel poor? How many are close to poverty, turning up their heat unnecessarily due to poor insulation? Ironically, those who live in thermally inefficient homes pour their income into heating, and unwittingly increase their carbon footprint.

To up the ante, how many this Christmas will choose to turn off their heating and put on three layers and a blanket while sitting in their own living rooms so they can continue paying rent? If you’re a 25-year-old in peak health, then you’ll probably survive without much trauma beyond not being able to swipe through TikTok as easily when wearing gloves indoors. But an overly cold home can still lead to an increase in morbidity and mortality, especially in the elderly and vulnerable.

According to Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics in England for 2019, 3.18 million households were in fuel poverty and while this number has dropped since 2018 (by a whopping 15%) it is nonetheless a staggering number of children relishing a hot drink, fingers curled around their mug because it is the warmest they will feel that day. A brutal image but doubtlessly truthful.
The UK has not taken this plight lightly nor are they blind to its detrimental environmental effects. In Scotland, the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) aims to improve the energy efficiency of social housing. It will help reduce energy consumption, fuel poverty and greenhouse gas emissions. Across the UK we have the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, PAS 2035, the Sustainable Warmth strategy and more.

But are we moving quick enough to ensure the highest number of people are protected in the shortest timespan? Are we targeting homes that urgently need help first? And are we ensuring that the homes that have been improved are living up to expectations?

Solving fuel poverty and fighting climate change go hand in hand. Another crucial link between the two is that there has always been a lag between technology and its adoption when it comes to serving the masses in optimising infrastructure. But this is changing. Thanks to the adoption of smart sensor technology (e.g., HomeLINK) that can identify thermally inefficient homes, we can prioritise repairs and retrofit programmes, delivering the biggest ROI in terms of increasing the health and wellbeing of occupants and lowering carbon footprint. This also means tracking changes to ensure the solution has had the promised impact. And yes, it also means children enjoying ice-cream in the middle of winter. As they should.

The burden to move quickly sits primarily on governing bodies. But the ability that we have to advocate for a warmer home and a healthier planet - the opportunity to ask for it is an impactful one that echoes.

This article is sponsored by Aico.

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