THE BLOG

We Need to Support Organisations at the Vanguard of Tackling Fuel Poverty

05/02/2014 11:26 GMT | Updated 07/04/2014 10:59 BST

Today, the biggest ever fuel poverty campaign, the Energy Bill Revolution, starts a week-long programme of action designed to raise awareness at the highest political levels of the energy crisis facing the country. The economy may be showing green shoots, but rising fuel costs are hurting the pockets of many of the UK's hardest-pressed, low-income families - threatening to undermine economic recovery as well as dragging even more people into poverty.

One in four households have to make a daily choice between eating and heating, and last week shocking new figures were published revealing that 2.2 million children are living in fuel poverty. Those children are suffering from the daily misery of living in cold homes, damaging their health and eroding their educational prospects.

With energy prices set to rise even further, the problem is set to get worse, not better, unless we treat the root cause of the problem: our ailing housing stock.

Our homes - the leakiest in Europe - are spewing heat out of our many single-glazed windows, uninsulated walls and lofts, and gaps in our floorboards. Locking heat into our homes through insulation, and educating householders so they understand how to use energy more wisely, will be the single most effective way of ending fuel poverty for good.

The good news is, the knowledge and skills are already out there to do this. In the 14 years since I created the Ashden Awards, I have seen a range of energy agencies, businesses and local authorities taking a wide variety of approaches to helping people insulate their homes and use energy more wisely, so they stay warm through the winter.

They include housing associations like Radian, which has refurbished its tenants' homes from top to bottom so they don't waste heat, combined with employing dedicated teams of energy advisors. These advisors develop long-term relationships with their tenants, showing them how to understand their energy bills, and giving them simple tips like turning thermostats down one degree.

They also include businesses developing innovative processes to make it cheaper and easier to install solid wall insulation. For example, the Sustainable Energy Academy and United House have developed a low-cost, low-mess process to insulate solid walls, which saves people up to £400 on their fuel bills. If all the UK's 7 million hard-to-treat homes were insulated in this way that would save the economy up to £3bn.

Then there are energy agencies like the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol, whose simple, accessible awareness-raising videos portray the reality of living in a cold home, or Severn Wye Energy Agency, which through working in partnership with health authorities is getting support to the people who need it most, so far lifting 40,000 households out of fuel poverty.

Organisations like these are at the forefront of tackling the fuel poverty crisis in the UK. They're not just putting more money into people's pockets at the same time as warming their homes - they're having a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of some of the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society.

But just when the services of organisations like these are needed the most, funding and support from both central and local government is being cut back.

Cuts to the Eco announced in December threaten to undermine work on solid wall insulation for the fuel poor. Many groups fear threats to funding for free advice services, while loss of capacity at local government level to work on local programmes, are all damaging their ability to meet the rapidly rising demand for their services.

That's why we have launched a new award for outstanding achievement in tackling fuel poverty. Our shortlist includes Ashden Award-winning organisations that are not just putting more money into people's pockets - they're providing more jobs, and helping make people happier and healthier, as well as further boosting economic recovery.

By showcasing the very best of these organisations, we aim to offer them the exposure and support they need to help expand their work even further, and encourage others to follow.

The Ashden Awards were created in 2001 to reward, promote and support sustainable energy organisations that are transforming lives in the UK and developing world.

The organisations shortlisted for the Award for Outstanding Achievement in Tackling Fuel Poverty are: Community Energy Plus; the Centre for Sustainable Energy; the Energy Agency (Ayrshire); Leeds City Council; Radian Housing Association and the Severn Wye Energy Agency.The winner will be announced at the Royal Geographical Society on 22 May.