In this guest blog, Age UK external affairs advisor, Mervyn Kohler, explains the importance of Big Energy Saving Week in helping everyone save energy. On the evidence of a handful of recent conversations with older people’s groups, the significance of the simplification of energy tariffs and the greater clarity of energy bills – changes which Ofgem has been driving across all the gas and electricity suppliers – have so far failed to register.
Older people, with perhaps four or five decades of finding these processes impenetrable will still expect their bills to be incomprehensible and the tariffs inscrutable. But the changes have made them easier to understand, and have introduced a welcome improvement in clarity and transparency.
One ambition of Big Energy Saving Week is to get across the message that it is worth paying attention to tariffs and bills - and using the new information to reduce energy costs because it can be worthwhile. A first-time switcher can save up to £200 a year, and from the end of 2014, the time it takes to change suppliers will fall from about five weeks to two and a half. Using the central heating controls the right way helps.
There’s the myth about leaving it on at a low heat even when the house is empty, and there is the temptation to turn up the thermostat to warm the house more quickly. But both waste energy. At the moment, only half a million households have a smart meter but from next Autumn the roll out will begin in earnest to help control energy usage. Saving energy is important, but so is keeping adequately warm. A cold home is actually a health hazard. You are more likely to feel giddy and fall, arthritis will feel worse, and you could feel miserable and depressed.
And that’s on top of the respiratory and circulatory problems which will be exacerbated by the cold, and which are the primary triggers of Britain’s dreadful rate of ‘excess winter deaths’. That’s why treating cold conditions with respect is important. Regular meals, hot drinks and mild exercise help, and closing curtains early (but not long curtains over a radiator) reduces the chill from outside coming in. There’s nothing very hardy about remembering colder winters in the past you happily survived: older bodies do not respond as well as younger bodies to the cold, and that is a medical fact. Age UK provides leaflets on keeping warm in winter (call 0800 169 6565 or visit our website).
This winter, as the government deliberates on its new Fuel Poverty Strategy for England, and our Spread the Warmth campaign will be concentrating on the longer term strategy to make homes warmer at an affordable cost by improving the energy efficiency of houses. Homes with decent levels of insulation, modern boilers and efficient central heating systems cost significantly less to keep adequately warm. Join our campaign and why not take part in the activities and actions proposed during the Big Energy Saving Week.