This morning, outside of the Houses of Parliament, activists from both Greenpeace and the National Pensioners Convention undertook the first of what I hope will be many joint initiatives. With sofas and tables they created a life size living room, covered with frost to highlight the 25,700 excess winter deaths that were announced today.
The term excess really doesn’t do justice to the human tragedy of these lives lost. The elderly, the sick and the vulnerable are all victims of a domestic fuel pricing regime that leaves them with the dilemma of choosing between food and heat.
Today, Greenpeace and the NPC made two clear demands on George Osborne and this government to help alleviate the three million-plus pensioners who are now living in fuel poverty. The first is to reinstate the £600 million cut to the winter fuel allowance that will mean the over 80s will lose £100 and the under 80s £50. This cut is simply unjustifiable in the year that will see average domestic gas prices increase on average by over 16 per cent.
There’s another reason why the winter fuel payment should not be cut and that’s because it saves the country money. Presently the cost to the NHS of those who are treated for the effects of cold homes is £850 million. It defies logic to pay to treat the health impacts of people living in fuel poverty when we could use that expenditure to reduce the burden on the NHS.
There is another measure that George Osborne should take that would help those in fuel poverty, cut excess winter deaths and help generate growth in the economy and that would be to reinstate the £235 million cut in funding for insulation of homes under the Warm Front scheme.
The cut to the scheme defies economic and environmental logic. Insulating homes cuts fuel usage. Cutting fuel usage lowers bills. Cutting fuel usage cuts carbon emissions – very simply, investing to keep homes warm is a virtuous circle in which the consumer and the planet win. Yet this successful and vital policy is being cut.
And there’s a simple way to pay for this. As a result of the increases in domestic fuel prices, George Osborne will receive over £200 million extra in VAT revenues this year. He could use this windfall to reinstate the cuts he has made to Warm Front and help cut the costs of people’s domestic bills.
Today is the first step in what I hope will become a huge campaign to reduce fuel poverty, improve energy efficiency and cut the number of excess winter deaths. It is a campaign that offers real solutions based on economic fairness and environmental protection.