“I live in constant fear that the cold is going to kill me”

Sandra is 79, in fuel poverty and lives in a cold, damp, uninsulated home. This is her story.


The three hot water bottles that I filled last night are barely lukewarm. But I continue to grip them tightly, under a mountain of duvets and blankets each morning, trying desperately to extract their diminishing warmth. I am freezing but I can’t bring myself to leave my bed, let alone the room, and venture into the cold to go and refill them.

Turning on the heating isn’t an option. I simply can’t afford it.

I’m almost 80 years old and, as I sit, cold and alone, in my damp Victorian one bedroom flat, watching my breath leave my mouth and the condensation run down the window pane, I live in constant fear that, during winter, the cold is going to kill me.

As shocking as that sounds, this is the sad way that life comes to an end for thousands of people every single year. Greenpeace has calculated that almost sixty people every day have died during winter over the past ten years because of cold housing.

The ten year period is significant because it was in 2013 that the Conservative government, under David Cameron, decided to ‘cut the green crap’ and effectively scrapped funding for home insulation.

Insulation installations fell off a cliff edge as a result – with government funded measures falling by almost 90% in a single year. And a failure to reinstate the subsidies, or proper home insulation schemes, by successive Conservative government’s since has been driving this silent public health crisis.

It is this government’s policies that have signed the death certificate of over 70,000 people and counting.

Cold homes cost lives: activists build cemetery from insulation boards outside Parliament

See how Greenpeace is pushing politicians to end the scandal of cold homes.

I developed respiratory problems and issues with breathlessness about three months after I retired, when I started spending more time at home, indoors. I have a constant cough and, although it remains undiagnosed by the doctor, it’s clear to me that the damp and mouldy conditions that I’m forced to live in is the primary cause.

My home desperately needs insulating, so I can heat it cheaply and efficiently and live in a warm safe home – my life literally depends on it. But – living in a rented flat, on a small pension, propped up by housing benefit – without financial support from the government I have no option right now but to try and endure the winter months.

I’m certainly not alone. This country has the least energy-efficient housing in Western Europe, which – as well as contributing to thousands of deaths every year – results in high energy bills, escalating the cost of living and forcing more and more people into fuel poverty every year.

The NHS is forced to fork out more than £850 million a year dealing with health conditions arising from cold homes, and housing is one of the UK’s biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions – so a lack of insulation is directly fueling the climate crisis.

As an active member of my local environmental voluntary group, I care deeply about tackling the climate crisis and want to do all that I can to reduce my own emissions. But sadly, when it comes to my home, I can’t. And both I and the planet are suffering as a result.

“My home desperately needs insulating, so I can heat it cheaply and efficiently and live in a warm safe home - my life literally depends on it.”
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We’re facing an existential crisis, yet our government is more interested in cutting taxes for the rich, in the hope that it’ll win them a few more votes, than delivering a national retrofit insulation scheme that would save thousands of lives, reduce energy bills for millions of people and is essential if we’re to prevent runaway temperature rises.

Such a scheme would create millions of new jobs up and down the country, deliver economic growth, it would actually help to level the country up and reduce the inequalities that are growing wider by the day.

This government has outrageously neglected the issues and people most in need of their support. Their failure to insulate homes is symbolic of their approach to governing over the past 14 years.

We desperately need a new government that prioritises people and the planet over the polluting elite. However, the likely successors that are the Labour Party have just ditched the vast majority of the new money they had promised to insulate the nation’s homes, which makes me think the alternative might not be much of an improvement.

So, as I sit gripping my now cold water bottles, shivering in my own home, I ask that all political parties stop playing politics with our lives and make sure the people that you are elected to serve get the opportunity to live in homes that are warm, dry and free from mould. It doesn’t seem much to ask, but for thousands of us it really is a matter of life or death.

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