Jonathan Cosson, Project Director, of Warm Wales, shares a community interest company perspective on good practice in helping vulnerable households and the importance of effective partnership working. This blog highlights the issues vulnerable households face moving into the winter season.
Thank goodness for the large-scale investment in upgrading the social housing stock. Whilst this has undoubtedly greatly reduced the risk of fuel poverty, problems of under-heating together with both damp and poor internal air quality persist and are still continuing to affect resident health. We must of course not forget the plight of private households, where well over 2m households (circa 75% of all fuel poor households) are still continuing to suffer from homes lacking insulation and forms of heating which are simply unaffordable against limited budgets. And of course a large number of these are mixed in with social housing through right to buy.
There is general acceptance now that residents suffering from cold damp houses with poor air quality are ending up with increased health conditions – but as yet there has been a dearth of reliable data which properly assesses the needs of residents in those households. Unsurprisingly, for those affected there can frequently be the misery of indebtedness and inability to cope leading to a range of depressive illnesses. Delays in benefit payments arising from the introduction of Universal Credit are also bound to increase stress levels and compound these problems.
It does not, therefore, take a genius to see that levels of cold-related ill-health are likely to get worse. In turn, this is evidenced by the overloading of the capacity of front-line services, whether it be tenant liaison staff, social workers or NHS services. Many social landlords are also finding the adverse balance sheet impacts of rent defaulting and the extra resources involved in forced evictions. Of course, this can simply transfer the problem to other agencies – as evidenced by the rapid growth of food banks and worrying growth of homeless. These are all symptoms of a persistent and acute problem – poor and unhealthy living conditions.
With another winter upon us and an 8% average increase in heating costs, pushing up levels of fuel poverty, there is therefore much to do.
It’s not all doom and gloom though…
We can foresee the expansion and alignment of our fuel poverty work to make the best use of resources and where our work is highly relevant in changing the focus of fuel poverty action plans to create a people-centred approach based on clear identification of vulnerability.
We will be sharing our progress on Warm Wales key projects – FRESH and the Community Energy Champion initiative in future editions. In the meantime, we are happy to work with others, where they would welcome a joined-up approach to tackling fuel poverty.