Letter: Action now to keep the elderly warm

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your article "Dickensian season for the elderly" (24 December) makes grim reading; nevertheless its message about the consequences of a large section of UK houses being unheatable is an understatement. Not only the old suffer. Everyone, especially children, is susceptible to cold-induced winter illness, and since cold houses result in condensation with consequent mould growth, also to damp-induced illness such as asthma.

The investment required to raise the UK housing stock to the thermal standards equivalent to those of our north European neighbours is massive. However, spread over, say, 10 years it is still less than the aggregated costs of death, illness (including consequent educational and production losses), damage to houses and their contents, the (ludicrously inadequate) cold weather payments, and the extra costs to social services and housing management.

The variations in UK winter climate are striking, if temperature, wind and sunshine (or lack of it) are all taken into account. A house in the Shetlands consumes 69 per cent more energy than an identical house heated to identical temperatures in London. Bad as conditions are everywhere in the UK, the hardship and loss is unevenly distributed.

Hence the investment needed to make life safe, healthy and tolerable for the eight million households who currently cannot meet such heating criteria, will need to be regionally targeted.


Emeritus Professor of Building Science

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

(The writer was co-author of Watt Committee Report 30 "Domestic Energy and Affordable Warmth", 1994)