Good news, energy costs are coming down. Or so we are told. The global oil price has fallen by more than 40 per cent since June, when it was $115 a barrel – apologies to those who do not use dollars or measure things in oil barrels, so think of an oil barrel as 35 UK Gallons or 280 pints.
Not that I am trader in the black stuff, but the price for good old Brent Crude is now below $60. This comes after nearly five years of relative stability. So how has this affected us? The winners at the moment are those who drive and heat their homes using oil.
But it would be a false argument to say that there are any true winners because we tend to let these changes in energy price happen to us – too many of us are passive customers. Even with General Election promises of energy price freezes and simpler tariffs, as a nation we seem to be caught in the headlights when it comes to actively managing our energy bills.Around two thirds of UK households are non-switchers. They have either never changed energy supplier or if they have it’s only because they have moved and inherited the previous owner’s energy supplier. This means that the majority of homes are run on more expensive energy tariffs.
Then there are the one in 10 households in Suffolk in fuel poverty, who either cannot afford to heat their home adequately or if they tried would be left below the income poverty line. Some of the most vulnerable will succumb to the cold since scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests that poor housing is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, depression and anxiety.
Around 300 people die in Suffolk every year as a result of the cold. The health effects of poor, cold housing disproportionately affect vulnerable people: older people living isolated lives, the young, those without a support network and adults with disabilities.
So there are two related issues here – high energy bills and vulnerable people living in cold homes – with, in my mind, two simple solutions.
Firstly, and it’s an easy solution – look for a better energy deal. As the energy regulator, Ofgem, suggests – go energy shopping. They have published an easy ‘how to’ guide that could save you several hundred pounds a year.
Secondly, and it’s a big solution – we improve the energy efficiency of our homes. As we cannot do that overnight, we can at least provide some help during the winter for those who are struggling to keep warm. Call the Warm Homes Healthy People helpline if you, a relative, friend or neighbour is struggling to keep warm. Since 2012, Warm Homes has helped over 3,000 households in Suffolk become more resilient to the cold weather by improving the home, providing advice and supporting households who are struggling with fuel debt problems.
Call Warm Homes Healthy People on 08456 037686 or visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/warmhomes.
Visit www.goenergyshopping.co.uk/en-gb/how-to-shop for advice on switching energy suppliers.
For energy efficiency advice visit www.greensuffolk.org/at-home/energy/ or call 0800 0288938.
-- Peter Gudde is environment manager for St Edmundsbury Borough and Forest Heath District Councils