An unwelcome insight into fuel poverty

Our boiler came to a grinding halt last Friday. We still had hot water with the immersion but heating the house became a major challenge. I was brought up before central heating and can remember the frost not melting off the inside of my bedroom window in the winter of 1963. But the kitchen was always vaguely warm with an ancient coke boiler, a fire was always lit in the living room at about 4 pm and there was a paraffin stove at the bottom of the stairs "to take the edge off".

On really cold nights, we would change into pyjamas and dressing gown in the kitchen and then sprint to our lino-floored bedrooms with hot water bottles - it sure was tough in those days.

But unexpectedly going back to this lifestyle with hot water bottles and an open fire in the living room but without the coke boiler was something of a facer. The temperature in the kitchen with our beautifully energy efficient insulated stove dropped to 12°C. Even splitting logs and kindling and huddling round the fire wearing more layers than Mr Blobby started to wear thin. We could feel our brains slowing down.

The boiler is working now - its sound is sweeter than a Beethoven symphony - but it was a stark reminder of the harship faced by elderly people and poorer families where they simply cannot afford to turn the thermostat up.

We have the challenge of living in a listed building where you cannot do all the energy-saving things that one would like. But that is a special challenge for us having chosen to live in an old house. One of the simplest things the Government could do in the face of rising unemployment and the economic crisis gripping the UK is a massive programme of insulation and home energy improvement - this would provide jobs, cut CO2 emissions and reduce the vulnerability of less well off people.

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