Monday 12 January 2015

Energy Solutions must stay to protect the poor from fuel poverty

One of the most troubling aspects of the current round of cuts is that organisations that contribute to long term stability and long-term savings in expenditure are losing their funding in order to balance current budgets. Sometimes those long-term costs are paid by individuals or departments outside the Council: cost shunting.  This is the case with the Stonebridge Adventure Playground and the Youth Service where long term costs of the loss of those services may be picked up by the criminal justice system or mental health - much more expensive in the long run and often at the social expense of ruined lives.

Energy Solutions is another such case:

Energy Solutions who are housed in the chapel building close to the Welsh Harp Environmental Study Centre in Birchen Grove also threatened with closure, have a long term aim of reducing the carbon footprint of the borough contributing to the fight against climate change.  In the process they are helping residents, landlords, schools and businesses reduce fuel bills and emissions and providing a vital educational function.

They work with local organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau and AgeUKBrent.

--> During the period since January 2012, Energy Solution clients have benefited in excess of £717,000 in disputed or refunded gas and electricity bills, trust fund applications and ECO funded affordable warmth measures (heating and insulation).
This figure could have been considerably higher if DECC/ECO funding for heating and insulation upgrades had not dried up early in 2014, and if Energy Solutions had been able to find funding for health and wellbeing based referrals.

Much of their time is spent trying to find funds from pension funds, friendly societies and other legacy organisations, this has resulted some good outcomes - recently the banking benevolent fund paid for a new boiler for a pensioner who didn’t qualify through benefit proxies but was none the less in hardship.

It is cases like these that the organisation find most challenging, where need is great - and often urgent, but  proxy profiling takes no account of individual circumstances, so there is little they can offer other than a personal visit and the provision of advice on how to make the most of the assets they have in terms of behavioural change, tariff or energy company switching and energy saving advice.

Their new ‘Boilers on Prescription’ funding approach is aimed at Public/NHS health and Adult Social Care services in Brent and is unique in that it proposes to prioritise patients/residents living in cold homes based on their clinical need rather than the benefit proxy. Health and wellbeing first and all the other, often conflicting issues, around housing, family ‘obligations’, and conflicted interests later.
Energy Solutions’ approach to Social Prescribing has been described elsewhere, but the ‘Boilers on Prescription’  LINK hub concept they propose could be extended into long term help and assistance from the third sector to make it easier to move vulnerable private tenants into more suitable housing, and provide a holistic circle of support to help improve social isolation, loneliness and mental stress - saving countless ££££’s to the local authority, Public Health and the NWLHCT, the CCG.

In the words of Dr Tim Ballard, Vice Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, “What’s not to like?”

The proposal in Brent Council's budget consultation states baldly:
Cease grant to Energy Solutions. Discontinuation of grant  for the provision of energy efficiency / fuel poverty advice.
The grant is just £50,000.Energy Solutions must stay

It comes with the virtual abolition of the Environment Department and the ending of many of Brent's green initiatives. The Council has made public statements about fuel poverty and only in December 2014 announced a series of roadshows on energy saving LINK

In his 'My Priorities' blog in  December 2012 LINK   Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council said:
Too many people in our community live in fuel poverty - unable to afford to turn the heating on over Christmas. That is why we will launch a Brent Collective Switching scheme.
But the answer is more than just switching and the work that Energy Solutions does with the poor, the elderly, the sick and with schools and other organisations is absolutely vital.

If the Council's aim is to protect the vulnerable, then Energy Solutions must not be cut. If it is serious about its commitment to combating climate change, then Energy Solutions must not be cut. If it wants to invest in the long term wellbeing of the community, then Energy solutions must not be cut.

 More about Energy Solutions work and contacts HERE  

Energy Solutions also collects donations to help those in fuel poverty. Older people who received the extra DWP winter fuel allowance but are not in need may be particularly keen to donate HERE 

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