Many thousands of people in Bristol will be forced to choose between heating their homes and eating this winter.
With almost 25,000 households living in fuel poverty in the city, the issue is one of social justice that also has wide-reaching implications, putting additional strain on public services and contributing to mental health issues, among others.
A new ‘No Cold Homes’ initiative, led by Bristol City Council, the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), Bristol Energy and Western Power Distribution, aims to find ways to solve a problem that is estimated to cost the NHS £3.6m per day.
Marvin Rees said the issue is one that is personal to him at the ‘No Cold Homes’ launch
“Let’s write the story of Bristol that we want to live,” said mayor Marvin Rees, speaking at the launch event in City Hall on Wednesday, where representatives from organisations, businesses, charities, political and campaign groups gathered to find ways to help those who need it most.
According to Government data, 13.2 per cent of the inner city live in a cold home – higher than the national average of 9.8 per cent.
Rees branded the high numbers of people living in fuel poverty within one of the wealthiest cities in the UK as “unacceptable” and stated that a warm home should not be a luxury.
Telling attendees that it is an issue that feels quite personal to him, Rees said: “It feels weird being in this hall today as the mayor, but I grew up in a cold home and we would go to get a Calor gas canister and just have one bar of the heater on.”
The ‘No Cold Homes’ mission is to bring together organisations and charities as part of a multi-pronged approach to tackling the problem and coming up with solutions.
The Warm Up Bristol scheme has been successful in helping to promote energy efficiency throughout Bristol and the surrounding areas. Some of the measures installed via the Warm Up Bristol scheme include loft insulation, external solid wall insulation, double glazing and solar PV.
Peter Haigh and Marvin Rees
“No one should be over paying simply to heat their home or cook a hot meal, but the problem of fuel poverty hugely complex, and there’s not one solution,” said Peter Haigh, managing director of Bristol Energy.
“It’s a challenge that won’t fix itself and a problem that manifests itself in many ways.
“We do not sell a lifestyle product, we sell the stuff that heats your home and cooks your food and there is a social responsibility that comes with that,” he told Bristol24/7.
The Centre for Sustainable Energy says the causes are complex, and the consequences can be life threatening.
One man with severe respiratory problems needed to use an oxygen machine 24 hours a day, yet was on the brink of having his power cut off, because he couldn’t afford to top-up his pre-payment meter.
He had been turning heating off and living in just one room in a bid to make ends meet, exacerbating health problems, both mental and physical – and this was just one example of someone in the city faced with an impossible choice through no fault of their own.
CSE’s Simon Roberts told attendees: “Quite often we waste money treating symptoms rather than tackling the causes.
“You don’t need to know the statistics to understand how much cold homes can impact people’s CSE we regularly meet people who are feeling the full impact of fuel poverty. We now want Bristol to take up the challenge, to ensure that none of our residents suffer a cold home.”