Daniel Cope: Ambassador for the Environment
Crisis? What Crisis?
The word ‘crisis’ evokes different sentiments and memories depending on the listener. To some it may be the market collapse of 2008, to others, perhaps the fallout of Y2K, and even for a few; Wham breaking up (1986). Some may even say the word is overused; no society wants to live in a constant state of concern after all (a general sentiment for most of the country at the time of writing). At this moment, environmental and political forecasters are trying to decide whether the revelations from COP26 are the prologue to an even bigger crisis…or perhaps the continuation of an existing one?!
One thing is certain, however, time and time again the word seems to sit in tandem with ‘energy’ (or fuel). Energy, after all, provides us with the necessities in which to live; to cook, drink, provide light, and essentially, warmth. Energy is no different than any other resource; it is often limited, and disproportionality controlled by those in power. With this control comes power, and the threat to ‘cut off’ the supply is brandished against us by some nations, and more recently, an ally.
A nation’s ability to deliver a constant, affordable supply of energy will provide much greater stability than a strong military. It is also a good indicator of how developed a society is (alongside its healthcare provisions).
The cold Winter
According to National Energy Action (NEA), around 10,000 people die in the UK through living in cold homes. We are one of the richest nations in the world, yet losing life through a simple lack of heat. It is heart-wrenching; it is a true crisis. It is not just those who die that suffer. Four million households are living in fuel poverty: one out of every six UK homes.
Further, is this not the making for a perfect storm? Long-term international dependency for our energy needs, gas-price increase leaps ahead of inflation, all in a backdrop of a rapidly changing planet. Rest assured, whilst they may call it ‘global warming’, the severity of cold snaps within the UK will intensify significantly (think Canada in the Chiltern Hills). With it will come a further dependency on energy (good insulation won’t go amiss, either).
Whether we call it a crisis, a price increase, inflation a change in markets, bad luck or bad planning, the end result will be the same; the most vulnerable in our society are, and will, continue to suffer.
A hope for Spring?
Here in Buckinghamshire, we are fortunate that Heart of Bucks is in its third year of delivering the Winter Warmth scheme. The fund, supported by Buckinghamshire resident Sir David Jason, allows those who receive a State Pension to forego their Winter Fuel Payment, in direct support of those who need it most.
Nationally, the Winter Fuel payment sees approximately £2 billion distributed annually. However, the question asked for years; are there other methods of distribution to ensure the greatest effect, rather than on age alone?
Whilst funds distributed to help those in energy poverty are welcomed, taxing our domestic energy across the board, less so. UK residents pay a flat 5% VAT rate on domestic energy bills. Whilst a tough pill to swallow, it is further stinging that the government receives even higher VAT receipts when energy costs increase (i.e. if you pay an additional £200 in energy costs per year, the government gains an extra £9.50). Again, this seems another inlet to provide direct and critical support to curtail some of the impacts of the price increases. Delivery could be fast and such a mechanism would be simple to implement. Nor would this have to result in a complete loss of tax income by the government; VAT could instead be charged beyond a certain threshold, allowing for households’ ‘essential energy use’.
Producing energy domestically can only go to assist instability, and whilst it may protect us from a security perspective, it may be wishful thinking to expect a reduction in our energy costs as a result. Irrespective, government and businesses must continue to accelerate the move to renewable energy to support our emission-reducing ambitions.
Whilst denying a crisis may be good for our morale, the consequences to victims of a crisis are no greater minimised, only hidden from view. Let us therefore accept the crisis that is unfolding, so that we may deal with the crisis that is unfolding…
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