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The dark winter that lies ahead of us

From the 1st of October, most people residing in the U.K. would have seen an increase in their bills, and approximately one in four adults plan to keep their heating off this winter. This has been long discussed, and different policies have been put in place to reduce the concerns of many.

Photo by Will on Unsplash

I am Gargi Mandal, a research assistant at the Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology lab, and I am keen to understand the impact of the energy crisis in the upcoming months. In this blog, I am going to briefly summarise the ongoing fuel debacle and explore energy efficiency interventions that have had a positive outcome in small-scale studies.

This situation will not only pose financial challenges, but it will also be physically and mentally excruciating for many. There is a strong relationship between cold temperatures and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Also, a review published in the Public Health Journal also highlighted the relationship between living in cold or damp conditions and decreased mental wellbeing. More than 1 in 4 adolescents living in cold housing are at risk of multiple mental health problems compared to 1 in 20 adolescents who have always lived in warm housing.

What has happened thus far?

In 2021, as the country started to come out of the pandemic, the demand for gas increased exponentially. Subsequently, there was a shortage in supply which led to an increase in price. Many smaller energy providers collapsed, and Ofgem, the energy regulator, moved their customers to other companies, which were often more expensive than their previous suppliers. A total of 31 companies went bust and Bulb, a 2-million customer renewable energy supplier, has been under special administration, which is designed to protect customers’ credit balance, and during this time, the company can still operate as usual, but could be sold to another suitable company at any time.

Moreover, the ongoing war in Ukraine added to this dire situation. Prior to the war, Nord Stream 1, the Russian pipeline, supplied 35% of Europe’s energy requirements, therefore, the prohibition of Russian gas has exacerbated the energy crisis.

Additionally, the political uncertainty, until recently, regarding the next UK Prime Minister has significantly staggered the proposal and implementation of an energy plan for the upcoming months.

From the 1st of October, the energy price cap has been set to £2,500, however, this is just an estimated measure and people will pay more if they use more. The cost per unit for gas and electricity has been fixed and is currently set to 10.30p from 7.4p per kWh for gas, and 34.00p from 28.3p per kWh for electricity. This is in addition to the increase in standing charges, which is a fixed charge for gas and electricity line costs per day.

Furthermore, the cost of energy has affected different sectors. It has driven up the cost of production, transportation of goods, businesses and has negatively impacted the hospitality industry. These costs will ultimately need to be borne by the consumers, an additional expense at a crucial time.

How can this situation improve?

The current PM, Liz Truss, has promised to freeze energy bills at an average of £2,500 a year for the next two years, and a combination of government schemes has helped alleviate some of the stress. In addition to the means-tested schemes, former chancellor Rishi Sunak had put in place a £400 discount on energy bills, the Energy Bills Support Scheme, which started in October. Under this scheme, all households will receive a deduction on their energy bills until March 2023. Subsequently, many families are going to feel the real pinch in April, and the Energy Saving Trust is campaigning to provide additional support and to remove the Value-Added Tax on energy which can save around £90 for every household.

In terms of future plans, better urban planning with higher energy efficiency could have a positive effect. A study published in 2017 investigated the short-term health and psychosocial impacts of a domestic energy efficiency programme in low-income areas in Wales between 2013–2015. The data from surveys indicated that the programme increased subjective wellbeing, improved psychosocial outcomes and reduced social isolation. Similarly, in Northern Ireland, as a part of a fuel poverty programme, energy efficiency measures, including some central heating systems, were installed in 54 homes. The intervention improved health and wellbeing, increased comfort levels in the home and reduced the use of health services, therefore having potential cost savings for the NHS.

With these studies in mind, a large-scale study consisting of the WELLBASE urban intervention programme will be conducted in 6 European countries with 875 participants over 12 months. This intervention aims to reduce the effect of energy poverty (the inability to afford basic energy services to guarantee a decent standard of living) on peoples’ health and to provide new insights into the effectiveness of a comprehensive urban programme.

What can we do on a personal level?

Approximately £65 a year can be saved by turning appliances off standby mode. Additionally, draught-proofing of windows, doors and blocking any cracks in the floors can significantly reduce heat loss. In the kitchen, using a full dishwasher and not overfilling the kettle can help reduce costs. In terms of washing, 30-degree washes instead of higher temperatures and avoiding the tumble dryer can be beneficial. These are just a few simple yet effective steps that can help many in the upcoming winter.

Furthermore, if you are interested in tips to save money and the planet, this blog from another Inspire the Mind writer is the one to read.

For additional advice on everything, Citizen’s advice can help.

This is a time of crisis, and it requires support on various different levels. The Government must support those who are most vulnerable. Future energy efficiency programs should be implemented. And each of us can do our own part in saving energy and reducing the costs.

Photo by Giorgio Tomassetti on Unsplash


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