Kaitlin Dryburgh – 25th August 2022
We’ve all seen the headlines; they’ve been hard to ignore. Fuel costs on the rise, inflation to hit a high not seen in decades, the price of heating your home quadrupling and the price of a pint of milk spilling over the £1 mark. But when it comes to heating your home this winter it’s hard to think about it when you’re experiencing a heatwave, when the last thing you would want is a hot radiator. Unfortunately the prospect of having a hot radiator will be an extravagance many households won’t be able to afford in the coming months. So what could this look like for Scotland and the rest of the UK this winter? A study undertaken by York University concluded that,
- Even with the £400 fuel rebate from the government 58.5% of UK households will be facing fuel poverty by January 2023 (fuel poverty is defined as having to pay over 10% of your household income on fuel).
- This increases to 80% when only looking at lone parents, large families, and pensioner couples.
- The UK still faces two price cap increase in October and January. It is predicted that an average household will be spending £64.59 per week on their gas and electric bill.
Unfortunately Scotland is in even more of a perilous position, with the increased number of rural communities in Scotland more vulnerable to fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty than those urban communities.
Of course this reality is even worse for those already having to decide between heating and eating, those that have less of a disposable income and those from the most deprived areas (or just areas that don’t have the mega rich within it). This study found that 47.5% of Londoners will be in fuel poverty while in Northern Ireland 71% of residents will be classified as in fuel poverty, the difference in this is very telling. Unfortunately we sit within a period of history where the basic necessities seem to have to become a luxury for so many. Already, pressures of rising rents and food has pushed some families to the brink, every week there is a new strike being planned, as public workers quite rightly ask why each year they’re effectively taking a pay-cut.
There is an even darker side though to this fuel crisis winter, people are going to die, more than we have ever seen before, some experts predict in Scotland it could be more than Covid deaths. Every year the UK expects, what I can only assume some soul-less person named, excessive winter mortalities (an extremely insensitive way of describing it). In 2019 England and Wales saw 28,000 people die due to the cold weather this was pre-covid and pre-this current dyer climate. Pensioners are already having to make the hard decision between heating and eating and unfortunately they are much more susceptible to the cold. Those of the population situated in colder areas are sadly more at risk. This may sound stupidly obvious that those living in colder regions will be more effected by rising fuel prices and therefore will have a higher mortality rate. Only, if you look at Scandinavian countries that logic is inept, countries such as Finland have lower “excessive winter mortalities” than us yet their winters are much colder. In fact the UK has one of the highest winter mortality rates in Western Europe, even before our gas and electric prices skyrocketed, this fact without a shadow of a doubt is linked to the fact that we also have the worst stock of houses in Western Europe also. The UK is littered with poorly insulated, leaky, damp houses where in some cases the majority of people’s gas money is effectively being used to heat their gardens. Poor housing exacerbates respiratory illnesses, it’s stress inducing and this year it will bankrupt many families.
However, this crisis could be a great equalizer as over half the UK population will be in fuel poverty, in some regions 70% of people. So this isn’t just affecting the poorest in our society this squeeze on costs is slithering its way up to the middle and upper classes. A family in an affluent area in their lovely (yet draughty) period property is more susceptible than ever to teetering into fuel poverty. However, I am not going to insinuate that just because everyone’s fuel prices are going up that there aren’t different extremes of fuel poverty, and although some have previously been immune to a situation like this, this may just mean no February break holiday. The prospect of putting a cheery spin on this by announcing “we’re all in this together” is very nice yet I don’t want to, because I am angry.
Just like so many others who are furious and frustrated that this looming winter looks to fatten the pockets of energy companies even more. That’s why campaigns such as Don’t Pay UK have been successful in gaining 113,500 pledges from people to cancel their direct debits on October 1st, if nothing sufficient has been done to tackle the rising costs. Don’t Pay UK say they’re not stopping until they get 1 million pledges and that could very well happen as disobedience and revolt is in the air. Not only that but there have been multiple protests outside energy companies headquarters and government buildings, trying to get someone to intervene. How can you not be angry when multinational corporations like BP are seeing profits triple to £7bn
So how am I preparing for these impending gas bills, I’m preparing to be cold. I live with my partner and both of us have decided we’ll only be putting the heating on when we really need to, thankfully as young people this isn’t such a daunting prospect. When speaking to other friends and family members this seems to be a similar consensus, thermostats will be much lower, more clothes will be worn around the house and Christmas shopping will be a lot tighter this year. However, some of my friends who are like me, starting out in their careers, trying to get on the property ladder are genuinely worried that this will plunge them into overdrafts that they have just managed to get out of from their student days.
In times like these its often communities that rally together to hopefully pick up the pieces for the most vulnerable. Warm rooms have already been established in some communities through-out the UK, where people can go during the day to stay warm and mingle with others. Many other communities and authorities are looking at how they can also establish warm rooms, but it’s not like local authorities aren’t also struggling to heat they’re buildings. Warm rooms could be the answer to stopping many people dying this winter but, isn’t it sad that this is what it has come to? That in this day and age we have to have “warm rooms”, that with all the technology and wealth in the world millions can’t afford to heat their home.
In the next coming months we’ll know for sure how bad this situation is going to get, and if government plans to step in and do something about it. Perhaps one of the worst aspects of the approaching winter is we don’t know for sure just how bad it could get. It’s like we’re preparing for battle but we don’t know our opponent, however right now I don’t fancy our chances.
So let us know how are you preparing for this coming winter? Are you worried at all or are you worried for the people around you?