Energy support for the vulnerable: The social justice and environmental benefits

Energy support for the vulnerable: The social justice and environmental benefits

Healthy Homes for Wellbeing delivers both social justice and environmental benefits

Healthy Homes for Wellbeing delivers both social justice and environmental benefits

ECOE’s roots were Transition Exeter, and the Transition movement has always had the twin goals of the environment and social justice. However, the environment has perhaps often been the priority.

When ECOE was founded we wanted to install lots of community-owned solar PV on community buildings. This was to help with the transition to a low carbon economy and lifestyle. But it was also to generate income to fund an energy-saving project for the vulnerable. We were proud and excited to have the dual goals related to the environment and social justice.

Delayed roll-out

However, it didn’t work out as we had planned. There was a drastic reduction of feed-in-tariff subsidies in December 2015. Also, the uptake of community-owned solar PV wasn’t as high as we had originally hoped for. We therefore had to wait until the autumn of 2017 before we could launch Healthy Homes for Wellbeing (HH). At that point we gained funding from Devon Community Foundation, the Big Energy Saving Network, Western Power Distribution and the Local Energy Advice Partnership (LEAP) project.

We have been very successful since our launch. Since the 1st of August 2018 HH has completed over 600 home visits, which is 50% of all of the LEAP visits completed in Devon. We currently run drop-in advice clinics at 15 venues in Exeter, Mid Devon, East Devon, Teignbridge and Torbay. We have also trained over 250 frontline workers, with 80 of these working for the NHS. You can read more about our success in our annual report.

Wide range of vulnerabilities

Householders we have helped experience a wide range of vulnerabilities. Some are in fuel poverty. Others struggle with a ‘hard to heat’ home that is damp and cold. Often people do not have enough income to both eat and heat their homes.  We see people living chaotic lives as a result of mental health difficulties. Some people are in energy debt and don’t have the resources to budget and think themselves out of their difficulties.

There are the elderly, who can be very confused. Others can also be very smart but extremely isolated. Some may have a mobility difficulty or a deteriorating medical condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), cancer or Parkinson’s. They are often in rural properties or off the gas grid. In such cases oil and LPG gas make heating even more expensive. It is often those living in fuel poverty that live the hardest-to-heat homes and have health problems.

Our chair Tara installs energy saving measures

Our chair Tara installs energy saving measures

More carbon saved than solar PV

The environmental benefits that the HH project delivers are considerable. They include reducing energy used through changing lighting to LED bulbs, upgrading boilers and cavity and loft insulation. Currently we only have the carbon saving figures for the measures that we fit during the home visit. These include LED bulbs, draught proofing, radiator reflector panels and stand by plugs. It is estimated that this saved 295 tonnes of carbon last year. By comparison, Total carbon savings from ECOE’s solar PV projects in 2018 were 144 tonnes.

The social justice benefits will include financial savings but also harder-to-measure social impact improvements including enhancements in wellbeing. Financial savings come from energy behaviour advice, measures installed, heating and insulation upgrades, tariff switching and the Warm Homes Discount. We also enable access to energy debt support, income maximisation by benefit checking and South West Water social tariffs. We have conservatively estimated that each home saves £870 per year as a result of a home visit. This is a significant improvement for households experiencing fuel poverty.

We have also launched a new Hardship Fund of £2,000 to help householders when other funding is not available. Our first award will buy and fit an electric cooker. The recipient is in fuel poverty and currently paying £70 a month to a credit agency every month for two years for their cooker!!

Social impact benefits

As yet we have not been measuring wellbeing before and after a home visit. We hope to gain funding for this in the coming year. However, each of our four home energy advisors hears positive things from householders each week. Comments like this are typical: ‘No-one has helped me like you have, I didn’t know this help was available’. We also hear: ‘It’s not just the money that you have saved me but your interest and care has lifted my spirits’. Or: ‘I often thought about switching tariffs but they don’t make it very easy for somebody not using the internet’.

Watch out for a couple of case-studies coming to our web page soon that will illustrate the depth and range of support that we are providing.