COLD@HOME – Raising awareness to tackle fuel poverty

13 Apr 2016

“We have to do something. We need to be educated about how we use energy – and how we can use less of it.” – Dawn McInnes, Merthyr, Wales.

Fuel poverty has become a serious issue in the UK, where it is estimated that 10% of all English households are fuel poor and the number of excess winter deaths is rising – an estimated 13,000 out of 43,900 cases were due to cold homes last year.

A household is said to be in fuel poverty when its members cannot afford to keep adequately warm at reasonable cost, given their income. A general measure is families that need to spend more than 10% of their income on household heating. While the term is mainly used in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand, awareness and discussion of the concept is increasing across Europe. The current definition of fuel poverty states that it is driven by three key factors: energy efficiency of the home; energy costs and household income.

COLD@HOME (www.coldathome.today) is a multimedia project designed to help people understand that struggling to pay energy bills is not about being poor. It’s about being stuck in a situation where it is difficult to balance energy needs with income.

The elephant in the room

While low income may contribute to fuel poverty, the condition of the house or flat, including its heating system and its roof, walls, doors and windows is an even more pressing concern when it comes to energy bills. Add the two other elephants outside the door – the climate in the region where a person lives and the current price for the types of energy people rely on – and you get the perfect combination for fuel poverty and debt.

Through short documentary films, COLD@HOME follows the struggles of fuel poor families in two very different contexts. Cold@home features the Nykonyvnas, who live in a small village in Ukraine, where fuel poverty has increased dramatically since the government raised gas prices by 280% in 2015. By contrast, the McInnes family lives in South Wales where low-quality houses built rapidly after the WWII – and meant to be temporary – are now driving people into fuel poverty. The documentary Pennies make pounds highlights how the whole family is working together to reduce energy consumption while also accepting assistance available to fix the house.

“Behind these films, COLD@HOME delivers a wide range of content designed to help people understand why fuel poverty is a growing problem and who can do what about it,” says Marilyn Smith, Executive Director. “It reports on technology and policy solutions to demonstrate that governments and utility companies want to help households deal with ‘the elephant’. Importantly, it also includes ways people can start to make better choices about energy use, and turn their own “pennies into pounds”.

COLD@HOME is produced by The Energy Action Project (EnAct), a non-profit organization committed to investigating different types of ‘energy poverty’ around the world and to reporting on the solutions to address it. Jointly developed by journalists and energy experts, EnAct wants people to ‘get’ energy and to empower them to make better energy choices.

“In countries where energy is readily available but unaffordable to some, a key aim of EnAct is to prompt people to think about ‘what is enough energy?’ and to choose not to use more than they really need,” says Smith.