WINTRY weather can have a huge impact when it hits the borough – not just the immediate inconvenience it causes, but on people’s long-term health.
Even though we’re hardened to bitter Arctic winds and freezing fog in Oldham it was something of a surprise to get a blast of up to 30cm of snow (in higher areas) so late in the season last Friday.
The scale of that snowfall was dramatic and I’m always thankful we can rely on our brilliant gritting team who, once again, helped keep the borough moving and cleared our primary routes round the clock.
But when a cold spell like that hits us my thoughts also turn to people on low incomes, behind with their bills and struggling with basics like fuel and food costs.
It’s easy to forget that weather conditions like those don’t just affect schools, bus services and local events, they also pose a serious threat in terms of ill health.
One key reason for that is fuel poverty.
This is defined as spending more than 10 per cent of your income on heating – and it remains a sad reality for more than two million people in the UK.
The facts are (literally) chilling.
Data shows that one older person dies every seven minutes during the winter – almost 120,000 from cold weather or associated factors over the last four winters alone.
And if you compare that with Nordic countries, such as Sweden, which have much harsher conditions in the cold months, you find their mortality rates are lower than ours.
So when the mercury plummets like it did last week many of us take for granted being able to just turn up the heating at home, but that isn’t such a simple choice for some.
That’s why, as a Co-operative Council, we set up the Warm Homes Oldham service to help.
This is jointly funded by ourselves, Oldham NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and the Oldham Housing Investment Partnership. It brings health and housing bodies together to address that direct link between fuel poverty and illness.
It’s also recognised by all partners that no single organisation is solely responsible for the health of our residents – we all are. It delivers a joined-up approach that will ultimately cut the numbers of people admitted to hospital and deliver other wellbeing benefits that will cut costs for all partners and, more importantly, improve the quality of life for the people helped by the scheme.
The help on offer from Warm Homes Oldham includes the fitting of home improvements, energy efficiency and switching advice, plus support for claiming benefits, getting off prepayment meters and clearing fuel debt.
In the last three years we’ve now fitted the second highest number of home improvements and new energy saving measures – like boilers, loft insulation and cladding – in the country.
Figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show that 170 out of every 1,000 households in Oldham have now benefitted from an Eco grant and our scheme has helped lift more than 3,300 homes out of fuel poverty.
We’ve got many fantastic case studies of the positive impact this had for local people and you can see some of these by watching the video at the top of this page.
So when I think about great examples of what we mean by living in a Co-operative Borough, the Warm Homes Oldham scheme is always high on my list.
I also know that many of you ‘do your bit’ during the bad weather – like checking on your elderly and vulnerable neighbours to make sure they are okay or clearing their paths – and that is fantastic to see.
But I would ask you all to please take a moment today to consider if you know anyone who might benefit from the Warm Homes Oldham service.
It’s already been so successful that it has been able to secure more than £3.5 million in funding from external sources. We want that success to continue.
And although you may think winter is almost behind us, I would urge you to take action now whilst this is fresh in your mind.
Cold homes are currently a bigger killer across the UK than road accidents, alcohol or drug abuse – which is shocking.
Please help us spread the word about the scheme and to improve the lives and health of people in your community.
For more information, or to book a free home visit to find out exactly how we can help, visit www.warmhomesoldham.org or call 0800 019 1084.