Interview with Mervyn Kohler

Meryn Kohler

With an estimated 3 million people aged 60+ living in fuel poverty, we ask Mervyn Kohler, Special Adviser at Age UK about the role of the energy companies and the government in tackling this important issue.

Listen to what he had to say by watching the video:

Read a transcript of the video:


Why is fuel poverty such a big issue for people in later life?

Mervyn Kohler
A fifth of our older population actually live below the poverty line, and a large number just above the poverty line. Now when you have got a low expenditure, when you have a low income, the amount of money you need to spend on energy to keep adequately warm is a substantial chunk of that. And with fuel price increases that we have seen over the last 7 or 8 years, more and more people are dropping into the situation of fuel poverty, where they don’t have enough money to keep adequately warm; and cold is a killer, and that really is the crucial issue.

Cold is really bad for your health, it exacerbates circulatory illnesses, respiratory illnesses. If you are sitting down for a long time in a cold home and then you stand up, you are likely to get giddy, you could fall, you could break an arm, you could break a leg; you get depressed as well, you worry about the cost of energy, you worry about the condition you are actually living in, and depression means that you don’t actually talk to friends, you don’t have social engagement and it might need to lead to mental illness and things of that nature. So, from fuel poverty we get to a massive amount of misery ill health, and in extremes death; that is the problem for our older population.

What should energy companies and the government be doing about it?

Mervyn Kohler

Well energy companies are caught between a rock and a hard place. I mean they have to buy energy on the global market in order to sell it to us, and we want the stuff available in the pipes when we need it. So in a sense they are a hiding to nothing. The world energy price is going up, inevitably it is going to continue to go on up, so we are going to see this problem getting bigger and bigger. But energy companies have also been tasked by the government, they’ve had an obligation laid upon them, to help us with energy efficiency issues in our own home - insulation, draft proofing and heating improvements and things of that nature, and quite frankly they could be doing that job a great deal better. They could also make their tariffs a lot easier to understand, so people can really see when they are on a good tariff that suits their pattern of usage that they’ve actually got.

But in answer to what should energy companies and the government be doing, I’m afraid the main call is on government because the essential underlying problem here is that our housing stock throughout the UK is in pretty poor shape. In Sweden energy costs more than it costs in Britain, but the average household bills are less because the houses are much better insulated and heating systems are much more efficient; and that is where the government has really got to step up to the plate and trigger a major refurb of our housing stock. They are working hard on the green deal at the moment, it looks clunky, it looks over engineered, it’s the only show in town from the of this year onwards so we are going to have to make sure they get it right. But addressing our housing stock so people can afford to keep themselves warm without bankrupting themselves, without going without food, without failing to go and see friends and things of that nature. That’s where the answer lies in the long run.

Do you think the current situation is likely to improve?

Mervyn Kohler
Energy prices are not going to improve, they are going to carry on rising. Global demand is raising the price of energy internationally and of course, fossil fuel is running out. So what’s going to get better? Can we get better about insulating and heating in our homes? Yes we can, but we need a major commitment from government to help us get moving on that. Can we get better about the ways we use energy? Can we understand better how to use it more economically? Can we invest in renewable energy resources, so we have new supplies of energy coming on-stream, which don’t mean using fossil fuels, expensive, increasingly expensive fossil fuels all the time?  These issues all come from fuel poverty, which is why fuel poverty is the subject of conversation at conferences such at the one Age UK is holding. We’re looking to try and get ideas from as many people as possible on how to address these issues about behavioural change in society, about improving the housing stock, about using less energy to keep adequately warm.

[Transcript ends]

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