Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Save the planet, reduce poverty, what's not to like?

Keeping older people’s homes warm during the winter can be a matter of life and death – there are roughly 21,000 deaths caused by the cold weather in England each year. But as well as helping to keep people comfortable and healthy, there can be other benefits.

A couple of years ago, Liverpool Council were checking the homes of elderly council tenants to make sure that their homes were properly insulated. While they were doing the visits, they decided to check that the people they were visiting were getting the benefits to which they were entitled.

By doing these checks, they managed to increase the income of the people by an average of £50 per week. To prove that this was not just a one off, similar results were found when this was repeated in St Helens.

The media is always on about people claiming benefits which they are not entitled to. In reality, people are suffering and in some cases dying from excessive cold because they are not getting the money which they are entitled to, which would pay for them to be able to heat their homes.

Different local authorities have different ways of promoting energy efficiency – the most energy efficient borough is Knowsley, where the council officers have right from the start involved people living in fuel poverty in deciding about what kind of work to prioritise and how to let people know about what is happening. Learning about how to combine social justice with a dramatic reduction in energy use will be increasingly important, and this sort of thing highlights some of the possibilities.

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