We Americans are a fortunate bunch. Our country produces its own energy, such as oil, propane, natural gas, solar, coal and electricity. Our homes and apartments also are built very well when compared to other countries. The United States has in effect, a long-standing, strict building code that makes certain homes are adequately insulated for both heat and air conditioning.
Great Britain, OTOH, isn’t as lucky as we are. Many residents live in homes constructed in the early 1900’s when insulation was unheard of. England also must import their fuel from Russia and we all know how that goes. England is at the mercy of constant rising energy prices with hardly any future solutions in sight. The UK did initiate stricter retro-fitted insulation codes but those won’t be fully installed for another ten years.
The people most affected by both the rising energy costs and improper housing situations, are, as always, the elderly and the poor. Stagnant wages, fixed incomes and pensions have caused both the elderly and the poor to choose between keeping the house warm or putting food on the table. Most choose food and in the end, die from health problems brought on from living in cold temperatures.
The Brits call this: fuel poverty; but what is fuel poverty? A household is said to be in fuel poverty when its members cannot afford to keep adequately warm at a reasonable cost, given their income. Millions of families in England suffer from fuel poverty, and are slowly dying at such an increasing rate, it has been identified as a ‘National Scandal‘.
A government report said more than two-and-a-half million families were unable to pay the costs associated with heating their homes without falling below the poverty line in 2016 – an increase of 69,000 on the previous year. Single-parent households fared worst, with more than a quarter (26.4 per cent) struggling to afford the bills. This compared with 15 per cent of couples with children, 10 per cent of lone people under 60 and 9 per cent of couples over 60.
Naturally, of course British politicians and citizen action groups yell and scream at each other, pointing fingers at the opposing party thus tossing blame on everyone else’s shoulders but their own. The government implements caps, price-fixing, metered energy monitors and the like, all to no avail. More and more Brits are dying needlessly each and every year due to fuel poverty.
We Americans, however, shouldn’t think we are immune from what is going on in Great Britain. We’ve all faced rising energy costs and have tried alternate methods to heat our homes (pellet stoves, wood burning stoves, solar panels, Geo-thermal to name a few). Right now, in New York City, there are several low-income, government-run buildings that don’t even have a boiler installed to heat hundreds of apartments, thus leaving thousands of people to live without heat! (click here and here for more sample stories) What’s the governments excuse? They simply do not have all the money needed to install the boilers nor do all the required, necessary repairs. Tenants resort to space heaters. Space heaters cause fires. Buildings burn down. People die. More and more people become homeless.
Americans are not limited to rising heating costs. We have to face AND pay for air conditioning too. Many residences are constructed in humid, blistering hot locales where air conditioning is imperative. There are many, many people who simply can not afford to cool their homes or apartments. Granted, life expectancy is a bit better under these non-cooling conditions but people (especially the elderly) do eventually die from heat exhaustion.
I’ve had my own share of home heating challenges. We used to be on a balanced budget plan with our propane heating company. (Side Note: we heat our home and hot water with propane as a way of saving money over the higher costs of oil. or so we thought. propane prices are slowly rising, despite being made in America) The propane company made so many demands for payment that we decided to go on a pay-as-you-need basis.
Our budget is $500 per delivery, which we pay in full upon receipt. We used to do this twice a year. Now? The constant increases in propane has caused us to order 3 to 4 times per year, almost double what we used to pay a few short years ago. As a result, we must lower our thermostat, don a sweater and get used to a colder interior temperature (65F at night starting 11:30PM, 68F daytime starting at 6:30AM. We installed more insulation in our attic (spray on), sleep under an electric blanket, keep electric space heaters around the house to supplement the propane (because of the proximity of our home to Niagara Falls, our electricity is cheaper than our propane). We’ve limited our living space to one room. We’ve discussed installing a pellet stove but I don’t want it. Yet. (too dirty and messy).
Same goes for our air conditioning needs in the summer. Most of our rooms have ceiling fans which work great. But come the dog days of summer and we MUST turn on the air conditioning to rid the home of crippling, destructive humidity. Our balanced monthly billing for electricity is $74 but each bill I receive shows a disproportionate amount of estimated to actual usage. We’re incurring more electricity costs than the $74 covers. We actually owe more ($274 to be exact, so far) and we will probably have to pay up come the end of the billing season, in full. This is not good for people on fixed incomes.
All of our neighbors, including us, have back up generators. As more and more people move up here, the existing power lines can’t handle the additional demand loads. If a car just smacks into an electrical pole, we can be without service for days. Maybe even weeks. We have to always keep our generator in tip-top shape, easily accessible and have a wad of cash handy should the electricity go down at the gas stations (no charge card usage). You can’t store gasoline. It has to be freshly bought when needed and not a second beforehand (otherwise it could ignite).
Are we Americans better off than our neighbors across the pond?
Maybe yes. For now. But for how much longer? Fuel poverty isn’t a laughing matter nor should it be taken lightly. Up until lately, I myself hadn’t realized what a destructive problem energy might become for all of us, as we struggle to keep both warm and cool. Right now, if you own your own home and have outside space around you, you can become a self-sufficient prepper. However, if you are a renter and have to answer to a landlord or government agency, you may be facing a life or death situation in your future.
So far, DH and I have been able to meet our energy obligations BUT not without some sacrifice. That latter statement has me a bit worried and concerned. As I learn more and more about what is happening in England (and other European nations, especially the countries under Socialism) I wonder about our future retirement years. I’m not hiding or pretending nothing is going on or happening. I’m not making up stories nor justifying my lifestyle. Gas prices may be down but fuel poverty is real AND fast approaching at record speeds.
Just note you’ve been forewarned. Here’s a current, local newscast regarding no heat: