How energy-saving advice can hurt the most vulnerable households

As UK households face a serious energy crisis, there is no shortage of advice from politicians, experts and journalists on how to save energy. All of this advice has not been good.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested that buy a new kettle for £20 households could save £10 a year on their electricity bills – a comment that has been criticized for being unhelpful and out of touch with the daily struggles of Britons.

Drawing similar criticism, former Tory MP Edwina Currie said that instead of catastrophizing the 80% rise in energy prices in Octoberwe should be line our radiators with aluminum foil to save energy.

Some tips, like the one provided by Money saving expert Martin Lewis and the energy saving trust, can be helpful or even obvious. Turning off appliances on standby and isolating your home from drafts are two examples. But telling people to trust advice like dry your hair in the office Where burn books to keep warm can be unrealistic, absurd or downright dangerous.

In the right framework, energy advice can benefit households and communities. An example is energy coffeeswho have demystified energy bills with community events that provide face-to-face advice.

But advice is no substitute for government providing the far-reaching financial support and energy efficiency investments needed to help households at the height of the crisis. Put simply, wrapping your radiator in foil won’t solve the magnitude of energy price hikes planned for the coming year.

When energy-saving advice hurts households

The focus on energy-saving tips and “hacks” may perpetuate a misguided and potentially dangerous narrative: if only low-income households were more careful, efficient and sensitive in their energy use, they would not would have no trouble paying their growing bills.

Recent evidence from UCL Health Equity Institute reaffirmed the devastating effects that lack of energy can have on physical and mental health. His estimates suggest that 10% of excess winter deaths may be directly linked to fuel poverty – and 21.5% of these deaths are linked to cold houses.

For the most vulnerable households, popular advice can be excluding or even insulting. Telling people to shower at the gym or plug in their phone at work assumes they have a gym membership or work in an office where they can safely leave devices to charge.

And households are already reducing. Indeed, in the face of recent price hikes, the charity National Energy Action argued that for millions of low-income households, there was nothing left to cut. They are already at the cost of heat and power.

Evidence from the Resolution Foundation shows that low-income households will need to reduce non-essential spending by three times more than wealthy households pay their energy bills this winter.

While some energy-saving tips are helpful, they are not a substitute for government action.

Asking households to reduce or shift their energy demand – “energy rationing” – has been widely debated as a mechanism for managing potentially limited, costly and volatile energy supply forecasts for the winter. coming. While new Prime Minister Liz Truss has ruled out power cuts, experts warn UK should be ready for scheduled and unscheduled periods without electricity due to supply restrictions.

Household-level energy demand reductions must be carefully designed to target those who can do so safely, without putting their health at risk. Those with higher energy needs and who are often already disadvantaged by the energy system should be prioritized. This means the elderly, young children, and people with disabilities or long-term health conditions.

Reductions in energy demand should aim well-to-do large consumer households or energy services that could be considered excess or luxury.

Low-income people are usually very good at managing limited budgets and ensure that resources are extended as much as possible. In fact, low-income households are often more successful in reducing their energy consumption than their relatively affluent counterparts.

We cannot and should not expect households struggling to afford basic necessities – including heating, hot water, laundry and lighting – to ‘hack’ themselves to escape this unprecedented rise in the cost of energy.