Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fuel Poverty in Lewisham

It is a shocking fact that in Lewisham each Winter around 100 people die as a result of the cold. Many if not most of these deaths are preventable, with a signfiicant factor being fuel poverty. An increasing number of people simply cannot afford to keep themselves warm, with a direct impact on their health and well-being. According to the government-commissioned Hills Poverty Review,  at least 2,700 people will die this winter in Britain as a direct result of being ‘fuel poor’.

Tomorrow evening (6 pm, Friday January 27th) there will be a protest at Lewisham Town Hall in Catford as part of the Fuel Poverty Action Winter Warm-Up Weekend 'to demand democratically controlled and accountable energy, decent fuel-efficient housing, and an end to deaths caused by fuel poverty'.  Community Action Lewisham say: 'Poverty, poor housing, no insulation, social isolation, debts...all these conditions affect our ability to pay the bills. None of them are accidental. With six energy companies controlling 99% of our energy supply in the UK, giving us the 'choice' of over 400 different tariffs, whilst hitting us with price hikes of over 15% last year, it's clear we have no power to decide where our energy is sourced and how much it costs. This has to change. Access to warmth, decent housing, and health should be rights not a privilege. At the moment, government and energy companies are preserving the market over peoples' needs and our environment'.

The event will include 'a Peoples' Forum, a burning of bills to keep warm, and a sharing of tea and information on how to bring down the cost of heating. Fire Eaters are also expected' (facebook event details here)

Lewisham report 

A report published by Lewisham public health in 2010 as part of the local Joint Strategic Needs Assessment explores the local extent 'of seasonal excess deaths, which relate to the difference between the number of deaths during the four winter months (December to March) and the average number of deaths during the preceding autumn and summer (April - November).  These deaths are of those people who would not have been expected to die anyway due to illness or old age in the next few weeks or months.
Many of these deaths are amongst older people, especially women, and those with underlying health problems. People living with underlying heart, circulatory or lung disease are at the highest risk...'

'Each one degree Celsius decrease in average winter temperature results in 8,000 additional winter deaths in England... However, these deaths are preventable; some countries with more extreme weather conditions than the UK experience fewer winter-related deaths. For example, Finland has 45% fewer winter deaths than the UK... In Lewisham there was an average of 105 excess winter deaths per year between August 2004 and July 2007. This equates to an excess winter mortality index (EWMI) of 18.9 for Lewisham (i.e. there was an 18.9% increase in deaths during the winter months'.

The report highlights that fuel poverty is a significant factor - 'Fuel poverty is when a household needs to spend more than 10% of its income on total fuel use to heat its home to an adequate standard of warmth. Fuel poverty frequently affects people from vulnerable groups that already experience a disproportionately higher level of general poverty and deprivation. These groups include older people, households containing children (including lone parents), households with large adult populations, vulnerable groups (including disabled people), and single person households.In Lewisham in 2007, an estimated 5.5% of households were at risk of fuel poverty. By ward, this varies from 4.9% in Blackheath to 6.3% in Catford South'.

Between 2003 and 2007, fuel poverty in England rose from 5.9% to 13.2 % of households, representing an increase from 1.2 million to 2.8 million households. The increase in fuel poverty since 2004 can be largely attributed to increases in fuel prices. The overall effect of fuel price rises since 2004 has far outweighed the impact of increasing incomes and energy efficiency'.

(Source: Lewisham JSNA: Seasonal Excess Deaths, Lewisham PCT, 2010)

(update 29.1.2012: see report and pictures of Lewisham protest:

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