Britain’s rising energy costs are weighing on crisis workers

The day after an Arctic air blast hit Britain, with temperatures plummeting below freezing and blanketing the country in frost, a 72-year-old man finally reached the telephone helpline of Warm and Well, a charity in Gloucestershire, in the west of England .

The man, whose name was not released, said he spent days calling and leaving voicemail messages with the nonprofit organization that provides counseling and emergency funds for people struggling to pay their energy bills.

Teresa Hewitt, the energy consultant who answered his call, couldn’t help but regret it. “We are absolutely overwhelmed at the moment,” she told him. She was one of seven employees who answered the phone that day in early December and attempted to take 71 calls.

Across the UK, more people are falling into debt and sitting in cold or damp homes this winter as a result of rising energy bills, which have helped push the country’s inflation rate above 10 per cent. This sharp rise in so-called “fuel poverty,” where 10 percent of household income is spent on energy bills, is straining the resources of charities that provide free advice, emergency funds or resources to access heat and improve household energy efficiency. With limited staff and inflation-poor resources, these groups have been looking for more creative ways to reach vulnerable households.

That effort includes doctors in Gloucestershire prescribing heat to patients who are at risk of being hospitalized because of the cold. Some charities give out blankets, thermos flasks and thick socks.

“The number of people in need now is unimaginable compared to about a year ago,” said Peter Sumby, director of communities at the nonprofit National Energy Action.

The group estimates that 6.7 million households live in fuel poverty. And in a survey released this month by the Office for National Statistics, nearly a quarter of adults said they’ve had trouble keeping their living room warm recently, while a third said reducing their heating is harming their health or well-being .

Mr. Sumby said his nonprofit organization uses “cobbled together solutions to help people get through the winter,” including packs of blankets, packets of hot chocolate powder and draft-proof items. “This is clearly a crisis response,” he said.

In the last six months, calls to the National Energy Action helpline have tripled compared to the previous six months. Because of the “overwhelming” number of calls and a backlog of transfers, the line has now been shut down until the turn of the year. Since the beginning of September, Severn Wye, the non-profit organization that runs Warm and Well and other services in the area, has helped more than 2,600 households, up 1,000 from the same time last year. Meanwhile, the phones don’t stop ringing. Almost 9,000 calls have been received since April.

The UK government plans to spend £25 billion ($30 billion) this winter to cap energy prices, but the typical household will still face gas and electricity bills of £2,500, or about $3,000 a year be twice as much as they were a year ago. In April, the annual cap will increase to £3,000.

At Warm and Well’s Gloucester offices, Ms Hewitt discovered there was little she could do for the 72-year-old man over the phone. He wanted help to get money to improve the insulation in his home. Poor building insulation is a chronic problem in Britain, which is said to have the draftiest houses in Europe, and insulation progress stalled over a decade ago. The Government recently provided a further £1billion for isolation but this caller was not eligible for this and older grants.

But then, almost in passing, the man revealed something disturbing: He and his wife were sitting in their living room, which was just 17 degrees Celsius, or 63 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s several degrees colder than the recommended temperature for people her age who spend a lot of time at home. To keep up with their increasingly expensive energy bills, the man said they turned the heat down or off, wore extra layers, and threw blankets on the bed at night. Woman. Hewitt urged them to set the thermostat to 20 degrees and referred them to other help should they fall behind on their bills.

Across Europe, governments are spending heavily to protect their populations from rising energy bills and have spent months encouraging households to commit to energy saving measures such as energy saving. B. turning down thermostats or shorter showers. Britain has also pledged a significant amount of money, but just last Saturday it launched a nationwide energy-saving advice campaign, urging people to turn off appliances when not in use and reduce boiler settings.

When this campaign began, energy poverty charities were already being inundated with calls for help.

In the midst of this immense pressure, there is a novel approach to work in Gloucestershire. This winter, some doctors may prescribe heat for particularly vulnerable patients; The recipe means they will then receive considerable help in paying their energy bills.

The program aims to both help people facing acute problems heating their homes and to relieve the national health service, which some measures have brought to the brink of collapse amid a shortage of beds and a staffing crisis. It is aimed at financially strapped people with severe respiratory diseases who are at risk of chest infection. After a small pilot program last winter, it is expected to reach 150 households this winter, with funds being distributed by Severn Wye and made available by the local council.

“I usually rush home to people when they’re sick and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, do you have to go to the hospital?'” said Dr. Hein Le Roux, one of the doctors participating in the program. Being able to think holistically about healthcare and preventing people from getting sick is “actually a luxury moment,” he said.

The energy crisis means not only more people need help, but also that the money available doesn’t stretch as far. Severn Wye was able to give hundreds of pounds each to help pay off their energy bills to indebted and vulnerable households such as those with children, elderly residents or people with disabilities. Since April, the charity has distributed more than £360,000 to 1,459 households in three counties. In Gloucestershire, the first pot of money this autumn ran out quickly.

In early December, Suhaila Abdalla eagerly awaited Gloucestershire’s next round of funding. She is one of nine energy solicitors for Severn Wye who visits people in their homes. Woman. Abdalla, who speaks Arabic, Farsi and Kurdish, primarily visits refugees and asylum seekers.

One morning below freezing, Ms Abdalla entered the warm home of Intisar Abdrhman, 27, who arrived in the UK from Sudan just under two years ago. The balloons and pennants were from her son’s first birthday a few days ago. She had Mrs. Abdalla’s visit for a few weeks after hearing that she was giving energy counseling at a local community center.

“I had absolutely no idea about energy efficiency,” she says. Abdrhman said in an interview with Ms. Abdalla. “Everything was a surprise for me.”

“When I came here it was winter, it was very cold and I came from a very hot country,” she added. Every day, she said, she turned the radiators on full blast without knowing how much it cost.

Recently Mrs Abdrhman and her husband have been spending around £150 a month on gas for heating and hot water, a huge sum for a compact one bedroom flat.

Over here, two hour visit, Ms. Abdalla was a whirlwind of efficiency. She telephoned Mrs. Abdrhman’s electric company on her behalf; tries to contact the gas supplier; and on hold took Mrs. Abdrhman around the apartment handing out energy advice: turning down the radiators, washing clothes at a low temperature, unplugging appliances when not in use, switching to energy-saving lightbulbs.

Woman. Abdalla could not reach the gas supplier. But before she left, she taped silvery reflective plastic sheets behind the turned down radiators to reflect the heat back into the room and presented a “heat pack” of blankets, thick socks and other essentials.

On the short walk through Gloucester city center on her second home visit, Ms. Abdalla received a phone call. It was another community center with an urgent request for them to offer advice to a group. They needed urgent help, the caller said. But Mrs. Abdalla’s diary was already full. You would have to wait.

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