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When fuel poverty IS a matter of life or death

October 26, 2012

A NEW campaign is battling to keep a killer chill out of the home this winter as Lichfield’s ageing private homeowners face being frozen out by rocketing fuel poverty just as all the UK’s major energy suppliers ramp up their prices with inflation-busting increases.

Worried council bosses are determined to beat the bleak statistics which show the district posting 70 avoidable winter deaths above the national average between the months of December and March.

And a pilot scheme is to be investigated to extend the gas network to the hard-pressed, vulnerable rural areas in a district where forecasters believe there will be the onset of an early winter, colder-than-average temperatures, increased snowfall and record strong winds.

Despite its relatively affluent tag, Lichfield District Council can take cold comfort from new figures which reveal fuel poverty within its boundaries is up by a staggering 30 per cent in the last two years.

The grimmest stats fall on the district’s Mease & Tame ward which, ironically, is represented by me, who as chairman of the authority’s Overview & Scrutiny is community housing and health champion.

Latest figures from the national Homes Energy Efficiency Database (HEED) places the spotlight on Mease & Tame ward’s 1,400 homes as the most vulnerable in Lichfield’s 41,000 households.

Of the district’s 26 wards – the villagers of Clifton Campville, Edingdale, Elford, Harlaston, Hopwas and Wigginton are trapped in an energy vacuum with less than a third of their homes able to get natural gas while four in five householders in All Saints ward can switch on to the home heating option.

My Tame & Mease ward is the largest, in area terms, in the Lichfield district and yet nearly 70 per cent of my constituents cannot heat their homes with gas – many being forced to use the oil-fired option which is 27 per cent more expensive.

The problem is compounded by around 40 per cent of the villages’ properties having solid walls. Put the two together and it spells misery.

Those wards in Lichfield which have both a higher percentage of solid wall homes and no gas supply also show greatly increased levels of fuel poverty.

Put simply, an ageing population in homes more than 100 years old is a breeding ground for heating hell. Unfortunately this hell doesn’t come with a built-in fiery furnace as the Biblical one does.

My fellow councillors on the Overview & Scrutiny group are taking a lead with a proposed pilot ‘Life’s A Gas’ scheme to investigate the extension of the gas network in the rural areas of Lichfield

They have tabled a four point battle plan which also includes reducing fuel poverty by 20 per cent, maximising funding to promote energy efficiency and cut carbon emissions – all designed to help reduce the number of excess winter deaths.

We’ll be sending out a questionnaire to the villages in Mease & Tame asking if they want the option of a gas supply. If demand looks encouraging, then we’ll seek the necessary funding to assist this – before rolling it out to other rural areas in the district.

LIFE’S A GAS: Here’s hoping our planned pilot scheme will be just that

I feel the quality of a person’s home has a large impact on their health and well-being, and poor housing conditions can have a detrimental impact on a person’s health.

The highest concentrations of fuel poverty are in our more rural wards. Some 9,000 homes fall into that category in Lichfield district.

Primary hazards in the housing stock are excess cold – found in older dwellings and those occupied by people earning less than £10,000 a year, which is mainly the over 65s and under 25s.

Rural areas were identified with the most serious problems, four in 10 privately rented homes classed as non decent and a quarter in the top ‘hazard’ category.

On average in Lichfield there are 70 excess winter deaths among older people – 11 wards experience more excess winter deaths than the England, West Midlands or Staffordshire average.

Cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and stroke account for half of excess winter deaths while respiratory diseases like influenza, pneumonia and bronchitis account for another third.

The increase in deaths from heart attacks occurs about two days following the onset of a cold spell, for deaths from stroke the delay is about five days and for respiratory deaths about 12 days.

The UK has experienced its weirdest weather on record in the past few months, scientists say.

The driest spring for over a century gave way to the wettest recorded April to June in a dramatic turnaround never documented before. Now the country is set for an extended colder and snowier period between November and the end of January.

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