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How to save lives, money, jobs and the planet


Rob Unwin

What will you do to reduce the energy bill in your home as winter takes hold? Gas and electricity charges have risen over 60% in real terms since 2000. This means that you could be paying more than your Council tax to the energy companies this year.
If you are well off, it might be around 4% of your income, if you are not, it could be as high as 17%! That’s nearly a whole day out of a working week spent earning money to pay for gas and electric, or a big hole in your pension or benefit.
When you add on the cost of housing, food and Council tax, you can see why some people choose to suffer in the cold rather than go into debt. Unfortunately, because of this, between 200 and 500 people in Sheffield will die this winter.
Cold doesn’t kill directly. But spending too long in the cold increases the chance of bronchitis, pneumonia, a stroke or a heart attack, particularly for the elderly. Some try and save money by using plug-in heaters rather than turning their central heating on. This is actually very expensive and the dramatic temperature differences between rooms can cause problems with blood pressure and might even lead to heart attacks.
Others don’t air their homes properly after cooking, showering or drying clothes for fear of losing heat. As well as promoting mould growth and ill health, damp air makes you feel colder so you want to turn the heating up!
If your home is well insulated you are much less likely to be at risk of unaffordable bills.
In 2007 the Green Party on Kirklees Council set off a £20 million, 3 year programme to offer free cavity wall or loft insulation for every private householder in the district. It has saved millions of pounds in fuel bills, had a huge impact on reducing carbon emissions from the Kirklees area and won the prestigious 2009 Ashden award. It also created over 100 jobs. Kirklees Council has also put money into schemes to help householders install solar heating to save even more fuel.
Sheffield is the second or third Council in the country to introduce a free insulation scheme for all residents, but over a longer (6 year) timescale. If you live in Hillsborough, Arbourthorne, Manor Castle or Walkley and your loft isn’t well insulated or you have unfilled cavity walls then phone 0800 9159096. If you live anywhere else in Sheffield and are over 70 or on benefit, then phone too because more Wards will be announced soon. You could save money and be warmer without it costing you anything. (Council tenants should contact Sheffield Homes.)
Unfortunately there are around 60,000 houses in Sheffield that don’t have cavity walls that can be insulated. Whilst simple energy saving tips, switching off almost everything at the plug at night, and getting advice from South Yorkshire Energy Centre (258 4574) or Energy Efficiency Advice Centre (0800 512 012) can really help, internal or external wall insulation is not cheap.
However it is a question of priorities and national government has refused to prioritise the ‘Fuel Poverty Bill’ which could help find the money. Providing advice and comprehensive insulation schemes to ‘Keep the Juice in Yir Hoose’ (as they say in even chillier Scotland) could help us halve our energy use. This could save lives, save us money and create jobs. It would also help tackle climate change without building any more nuclear power stations.

Topics: City Wide, Climate Change, Council, Energy, Housing, Letters to the press, Local Campaigns, Poverty, Refugees, Rob Unwin