Hodgson View: The hidden long term and irreversible damage of rising energy costs

Martin Lewis described the social and economic impact of the change in the domestic energy cap that comes into play in April as “walking into a catastrophe”. He estimates that the cost of power is set to rise by 40%, condemning many more families to energy poverty and deepening the misery for many others who are already there.

Much is said and written about the choice that some will have to make between heating and eating, and quite rightly so. In this day and age, it is a shocking choice to have to make. But as an observer of these stories, little seems to have been written about the more insidious effects cold homes have on people and their property.

Colder buildings over winter

The vulnerability of those who are old, the very young, those who suffer ill health, or simply spend a lot of time confined in their homes; this is well understood. The cold can exacerbate or bring on illness and in some cases lead to premature death. What seems less well considered is the precarious balance affecting many homes that teeter on the brink of atmospheric moisture imbalance during a typical winter when fuel prices are “normal”.

We are not qualified to comment on the detailed health implications of cold homes, but we are well placed to raise the effect of low temperatures in occupied buildings. Colder air means colder walls. At low temperatures the moisture we produce from living is unchanged, but the ability for the building to cope with this moisture burden takes a nosedive.

The physical and mental wellbeing of occupants

The inevitable outcome of colder homes in winter is condensation, damp and mould. This not easily corrected with ventilation, or even insulation when too little energy is expended to heat the air to carry more moisture. The result is not just damage to the building and its contents (that is difficult and expensive to repair), but to the physical and mental wellbeing of occupants.

What upsets me most is that housing affected by dampness and mould directly affects the life chances of the very young as much as it affects the health of adults. The effects of a mouldy homes cannot be over exaggerated. Children fail to thrive and can become excluded when clothes smell of mould and friends can’t come round to play. The bedding is damp, walls turn green and toys are ruined. These things are not just irritations. They scar kids and some don’t recover. It is just not fair!

The full effects will not be felt just yet

The full effects of the predicted rise in fuel costs will not be felt in April. During the summer, heating can be forfeited without much effect on atmospheric moisture imbalance. What we can predict is a dramatic increase in the severity and frequency of problems as we head into next winter.

The Government may be forced to review their hands-off policy but as yet they seem reluctant to intervene with subsidies for energy. Instead they appear to be turning towards the benefits of improving energy efficiency through retrofit. All good stuff Boris, but you are not going to insulate and improve ventilation in 5 million homes before next year! This longer term fix will result in fuel poverty for millions and will condemn many to the long term social, psychological, and economic impacts which come with that.

Perhaps we need Martin Lewis to be joined in his campaign by a premier league footballer, a TV chef, or a social media influencer! After all, it seems celebrities with Twitter and Instagram accounts do better in looking after the welfare and life chances of less well-off kids, than scientists or politicians…

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