Tackling energy’s impact on health and well-being
21st September 2017
Lisa Evans is a Project Manager at the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE). As part of Healthy City Week they are launching Warmer Homes, Advice & Money (WHAM) in partnership with two other Bristol support agencies: Talking Money and WE Care & Repair. WHAM will enable Bristolians to access energy advice, financial advice and home repair services from a single point. In this blog, Lisa reflects on the importance of tackling energy issues and debt problems for both health and emotional well-being, from her experience of working with Bristolians.
"Keeping people warm in their homes is part of our core mission. Every year we visit about 300 people in the South West to help them keep warm by explaining their energy bills and showing them how to use their heating systems, giving advice on damp and mould, debt problems and a host of other energy-related issues. We’re proud to say that these visits often play a role in improving people’s quality of life, emotional well-being and health.
Our work involves us visiting people who struggling to get by. I often think about Mark, a client I came into contact with a few years ago. Mark had severe respiratory problems and needed to use an oxygen machine 24 hours a day. At one of his hospital check ups, a health worker discovered that Mark was at risk of having his power cut off. This would mean being unable to run his oxygen machine.
Mark’s prepayment meter meant that he had to top up his electricity credit a couple of times a week and was only offered a limited amount of emergency credit if he failed to do this – at which point the power went out. To try to keep up with his payments Mark had been turning his heating off and sticking to one room.
The consequences of a power outage could have been life-threatening to Mark. And in addition to his profound anxiety over this he also had to put up with the daily grind of dealing with debt, living in a cold uncomfortable home and consequently worsening health.
Happily, the actions I took on that day (switching Mark to a credit meter, ensuring he was on the Priority Services Register and organising a rebate on his electricity bill) were enough to enable him to keep warm and well at home. But sometimes the situations we encounter aren’t so easy to solve.
A few years ago a colleague visited a social housing tenant with two severely asthmatic children who was so fed up of the persistent mould covering the inside walls of her home she had painted the walls black so at least she was spared the misery of looking at it. In cases like these you don’t need to know the statistics to understand how much cold homes can impact people’s health and wellbeing.
To solve deep-seated problems such as this at a city level takes more than just energy advice: it means linking up fuel poverty workers with frontline health staff, social housing and private landlords, local authorities, and other support services so that people receive comprehensive support. It means thinking about how we can improve the housing stock as a whole so that no one is forced to live in inadequate housing. And, it means working to empower vulnerable customers in an energy system that often fails them.
Energy is a key theme for Healthy City Week, because of its environmental and health implications. Bristol Energy Network will be offering advise on Getting Your Home Ready for Winter on Tuesday 10th October from 8.10am on the Bristol One Love Breakfast Show, and the The WHAM project launch is from 4.30pm at the Unitarian Hall, Brunswick Square, St.Pauls. CSE are also hosting a workshop 'Smarter Warmer Homes' on smart energy technology and vulnerable customers on Wednesday 11th from 1.30pm at the Foundation Hub, College Green. You can download the full HCW 2017 programme, or scroll through the detailed events calendar.