Supporting constituents in Fuel Poverty

Last week I was delighted to welcome the Minister for Energy and the Industrial Strategy to Cornwall to see for herself the innovative work that the Winter Wellness Partnership and, more recently, Warm and Well Cornwall have been doing. This effective partnership is making real inroads into a long standing, stubborn problem by doing things differently. Helping people on modest incomes stay warm and well in their homes by improving energy efficiency remains a priority for me. New technology is playing an important role, for example, free energy efficient central heating systems are being installed in homes in fuel poverty. Most of us take living in centrally heated homes for granted but there are too many cold homes in Cornwall without it. Last week’s Government announcements were welcomed by the partnership as they will enable us to build on our work of helping over 7,200 homes and 16,000 people to stay warm and well in winter by funding more help for more people.

New technology has the ability to improve many aspects of our lives. I am encouraging local businesses to apply for a share of £40million of government funding to develop new ways of charging electric vehicles. Electric vehicles significantly improve air quality, boost the environment and reduce costs for motorists. It’s vital we ensure the charging infrastructure is in place so we keep pace with demand. The government wants nearly all cars and vans to be zero-emission by 2050. A major challenge will be to grow the UK’s charging infrastructure quickly enough to make electric vehicles an attractive choice. The government has launched two competitions, with £40million up for grabs. The first focuses on charging vehicles in public spaces, to support people who don’t have suitable off-street parking. The second focuses on wireless charging of commercial vehicles, such as taxis and delivery vans.

There are so many innovative businesses in Truro, Falmouth and Cornwall as a whole, and it would be great to see some of them secure funding and lead this revolution in UK transport.

The deadline for applications for both competitions is midday on 29 August 2018.

Projects must be led by a business, working with other companies, local authorities, research organisations or charities.

New technology is also important for improving our local NHS. So last week I was delighted to see that the new Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, has earmarked the NHS in Cornwall for a tech-funding boost of over £4 million.

The funding is part of a half a billion pound national package, available immediately to the NHS, to roll out innovative tech aimed at improving efficiency, enhancing patient safety and helping more patients access health services at home.

A good example is Scan4Safety where barcode tracking in hospitals is enabling staff to track all patients and their treatments, manage medical supplies and the effectiveness of equipment.

The funding will be formally allocated once our local NHS and care improvement plan, ‘Sustainability and Transformation Partnership’ is submitted and approved.

First published in the West Briton 26/07/18

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Combating Fuel Poverty in Cornwall

Out and about at this time of year I expect to be chilly. However, I don’t expect anyone to be going home to live in a cold house. Each year the Winter Wellness Partnership works hard to ensure that people living in cold homes get the help and support they need to stay warm and well during the winter.

This year, 7,500 homes in Cornwall identified as potentially having people living in fuel poverty are being sent in the post, a Thermocard. Each card enables the householder to test the warmth of their home and if it is below the acceptable level of warmth, asks them to seek help. The Thermocard provides contact details for that help, including a free post address. Households have been identified by using data recently made freely available by the government to Public Health and Cornwall Council, to combine with additional household data, so that people living in the least energy efficient homes on low incomes are made aware of the available support. Help includes energy saving measures as well as access to financial assistance.

This activity is just one part of a significant “devolution deal” being undertaken in Cornwall that sees energy company SSE working with Public Health, Cornwall Council, the NHS and award winning local charities such as Community Energy Plus and Cornwall Rural Community Charity as well as local social housing providers and the broad partnership of local voluntary groups and charities that make up the Winter Wellness Partnership.

For eligible households in private rented homes as well as socially rented homes, there is funding this year for 1,100 new central heating systems. There is funding for insulation too. I think the provision of caseworkers that will visit people’s home to provide personal advice and support to switch energy suppliers, apply for relevant benefits and signpost to health and work services is really important. From my experience, I know that it is often the people who would benefit the most that are the least likely to seek support that is available to them. Working with community groups, I very much hope the individual caseworkers will be able to change this, so no one is cold at home this winter.

Each year as a contribution to the Winter Wellness Campaign, Cornwall Community Foundation runs a winter appeal asking people to donate to their Surviving Winter Appeal. This money is then allocated to Winter Wellness partners so that local people who need financial help to stay warm get it. You can be sure that donations get to people that need it and in addition to this emergency help, people are signposted to additional support to find longer term solutions. Solutions include help to reduce heating bills and increasing their household incomes through benefits or employment. So far this winter 206 people have been helped in this way. If you feel you can make a donation, please do so now as there are more people who could benefit.

First published in the West Briton on 15/02/18

Helping people out of poverty

Happy New Year! While we all expect it to be chilly outside at this time of the year I don’t expect anyone to be living in a cold home. Thousands of people across Cornwall will be lifted out of fuel poverty and live in warmer homes following an £8m funding investment over the next year.

Around 36,000 homes in Cornwall are in fuel poverty, with Cornwall in the top 10 of fuel poor areas in England. I am delighted to have helped secure this new funding to tackle a long standing problem in Cornwall. Having been a part of the Winter Wellness partnership for some time, I have seen first-hand how effective this partnership of public sector organisations, businesses, charities and community groups is in delivering positive change for people living on low incomes in Cornwall. Living in a warm home is a matter of social justice and this new programme and investment will help more local people.

The Winter Wellbeing Partnership, including 30 partners, from our local NHS to Cornwall CAB, the Fire Service and Cornwall Council has secured over £3.5m from National Grid’s Warm Homes Fund to work with thousands of people to stay warmer for less and be lifted out of fuel poverty.

The new fund – ‘Warm and Well Cornwall’ – targets residents who are in poor health or at risk of ill health, or with underlying health issues, or caring for a vulnerable person or worried about their home being cold or damp.

Warm and Well Cornwall will help 220 private homes, including owners, landlords or tenants and up to 800 social housing homes with first time central heating, such as renewable heating, mains gas, oil, or LPG, with many more to follow in future years.

Social housing partners Ocean, Coastline, Cornwall Housing, Guinness and DCH are investing around £2.5m to improve heating for their tenants with renewable heating and gas central heating.

Funding has also been secured from SSE Energy Solutions, Cornwall Council’s Energy Efficiency partner. SSE has ring-fenced Energy Company Obligation (ECO) eligible measures targeted at fuel poor and vulnerable households in Cornwall and is a key partner to delivering Warm and Well Cornwall. By January 2019 the programme is expected to have helped more than 1,000 homes out of fuel poverty, keeping people warm and well.

Private landlords with tenants can also apply for funding to upgrade their properties. From April 2018, private landlords cannot re-let existing rented properties rated EPC F or G, unless they have registered a valid exemption and from 2020 landlords won’t be able to let any (non-exempt) properties if they are rated F or G.

The WinterWellness Freephone 0800 9541956 is the place to get more information about the wide range of help and support available. It is run by the great Cornish charity called Community Energy Plus. There is cash available for emergency heating payments made available from the Cornwall Community Foundation surviving winter appeal.

Of course tackling fuel poverty is not just about bringing down the cost of heating a home and improving energy efficiency, it’s also about increasing household incomes. So Winter Wellness can provide access to impartial and expert information and advice over the phone or face to face with saving money as well as checking eligibility for cash benefits and discounts. Referrals can also be made to organisations that can help people increase their incomes and employment opportunities.

Helping people out of poverty and putting more money into the pockets of my constituents is a top priority for me in 2018.  I will be continuing to support local employers to protect and grow their enterprises so that more people have the opportunity of a good job. Increasing access to in work skills and training is really important to enable people to increase their wages too.

In 2018 I will build on the progress of the recent Budget that increased the personal allowance, so more people keep more of the money they earn before they start paying taxes. I will also make the case for further increases in the Living Wage. I am pleased that thanks to the hard work and dedication of local employers, the number of people of all ages in work is much higher than 2010. Throughout 2018, I want to see the number of well paid good jobs grow here and people keep more of the money they earn.

First published in the Falmouth Wave January 2018