Striking photos tell the moving stories of the energy crisis

Warm homes shouldn't cost the Earth - Friends of the Earth identifies the coldest neighbourhoods in England and Wales
  Published:  08 Dec 2022    |      6 minute read

A new series of evocative images is being released today showcasing the moving and powerful stories from some of the areas hardest hit by soaring energy prices and the deepening cost of living crisis.

New analysis by the environmental justice organisation, Friends of the Earth, has identified 100 of the ‘coldest neighbourhoods’ in each English region and Wales (1,000 in total). Homes in these areas are the hardest to heat due to low energy efficiency ratings, making energy use and bills higher than average, and where most people are also living on low incomes. Friends of the Earth commissioned photojournalist Grey Hutton to visit some of these areas with a thermal imaging camera to create vivid and compelling visualisations of their stories.

He met with families and individuals living in Rhyl in north Wales, Bradford and Halifax in Yorkshire and Enfield in London, where poorly insulated, heat-leaking homes are proving not just impossible to keep warm but are often riddled with damp issues and putting health and wellbeing at risk too.

The photo series highlights how people of colour, disabled people, older people, and those living on low incomes are among those disproportionately impacted by the energy crisis. Among those photographed were 48-year-old Thomas who lives in Rhyl. He describes “walking around like the Michelin Man”, wearing three pairs of trousers in his home to keep warm because he can’t afford to heat it, citing the standing charge on his pre-payment meter as a driving cause. Meanwhile 78-year-old Audrey, who also lives in Rhyl and has a number of health issues, said that she lives in just one room of her home because it is the only way she can afford to stay warm. One of the images starkly captures just how cold the tips of her fingers are because she struggles with poor circulation and arthritis. People of colour are more than twice as likely to live in some of England’s coldest neighbourhoods, according to Friends of the Earth’s analysis. Iqra, a 21-year-old living with her family in Bradford, spoke of the difficulty of retaining heat in her poorly-insulated home, which has created a terrible damp problem. Her family gets by using hot water bottles and wearing thick socks and woolly clothing. In one of the photos, Iqra, her mother and 7-year-old sister stand next to a wall saturated with damp, the heat of their bodies in sharp contrast to the dark cold of the seeping moisture.

The UK has some of the worst insulated homes in Europe, making them expensive to heat as warmth escapes through walls, windows, roofs and doors. Last month, a Coroner said that the death of 2-year-old Awaab Ishak, who died after “chronic exposure” to mould created by damp in his home, should be a “defining moment” for the UK’s housing sector.

As the images show, people are doing everything they can to try to stay warm and protect each other from the impacts of rising bills. The heart-warming image from Foryd Community Centre in Rhyl, which offers a foodbank and a community café, shows how people are supporting each other.

Their release marks the launch of United for Warm Homes, a campaign powered by Friends of the Earth. United for Warm Homes is a growing alliance of community groups and individuals campaigning for the solutions that will bring down energy bills for good and cut the harmful emissions that cause climate change. In England, Friends of the Earth is urging the government to commit to a free, nationwide, street-by-street programme of insulation and energy efficiency measures which is one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to lower energy bills. This would help people save hundreds of pounds each year in energy costs.

And in Wales, the group is urging the Welsh government to urgently introduce its new Warm Homes programme to help those most in need, and through street-by-street insulation in neighbourhoods. A tougher windfall tax, without the loopholes that allow firms to recoup tax savings for every £1 invested in fossil fuels, could readily fund a £5bn a year insulation scheme.

The group warns that the UK government’s plans for an energy efficiency drive from 2025, as announced in the Autumn Statement, is far too little and far too late. Delaying an urgent roll out of insulation for another two years means millions of people will continue to suffer cold homes and sky-high energy bills, while delaying essential action to cut carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, more targeted financial support is urgently needed. The package announced in the Autumn Statement is welcome but doesn’t go far enough to protect those most at risk. This includes the 40% of people living in poverty who don’t receive means-tested benefits and are therefore unable to benefit from the extra £900 of much-needed support.

For the full set of images and a list of those pictured along with supporting quotes, please see the notes section.

Catriona Currie, warm homes campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Harrowing stories like the ones captured in these striking photos are shamefully all too common right now. We have millions of people facing an incredibly bleak winter ahead, and with the festive season right around the corner. “We’ve heard how people are making every adjustment they can to ease the enormous cost pressures they’re facing, and the cold is far from the only problem – damp issues are putting health and wellbeing at risk too. “No one should have to live in a freezing home, just so they can afford to pay for food or meet other rising living costs. Rapidly rolling out a street-by-street scheme to insulate our heat-leaking homes, prioritising those in most need first, is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to bring down energy bills and cut harmful carbon emissions. The UK government must not delay this essential action to keep people warm and well.” Notes

  1. Download the full set of photos. Please credit all images to © Grey Hutton.
  2. Appendix containing details of each of the people photographed and supporting quotes.
  3. Captions for each of the photographs. Please credit all images to © Grey Hutton.
  4. Spreadshet of the 100 ‘coldest neighbourhoods’ for each English region and Wales and a background briefing on the group’s latest analysis.
  5. United for Warm Homes, a new campaign powered by Friends of the Earth, is a growing alliance of community groups united by a common goal – warm homes that don’t cost the earth. To find out more about the campaign please visit https://unitedforwarmhomes.uk/.
  6. Grey Hutton is a freelance photojournalist who studied at London College of Communication before moving to Berlin, where from 2012 - 2018 he was the photo editor and staff photographer for VICE Germany. Currently living in Hackney, London, his most recent focus has been uncovering the local impact and response to Covid-19. For more information visit https://www.greyhutton.com/.

Methodology

Friends of the Earth’s new data analysis builds on its previous work identifying 9,000 ‘energy crisis hotspots’ that are at greatest risk from the soaring cost of energy bills. From these, the environmental campaign group identified 1,000 of the coldest neighbourhoods in England and Wales (100 in each English region and in Wales). These coldest neighbourhoods are energy crisis hotspots where people are living on the lowest incomes and where homes have the lowest energy efficiency ratings, which means they are more expensive to heat.

The energy crisis hotspots were calculated using statistics on energy consumption and fuel prices. The results from this analysis were combined with neighbourhood level data on income from the English Indices of Deprivation and Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation to identify the areas most at risk from the energy crisis: those with above average energy costs and below average incomes.

To find the ‘coldest neighbourhoods’ within these energy crisis hotspots the environmental campaign group used Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) statistics to show the average energy efficiency rating for homes in each energy crisis hotspot and the proportion of homes that are rated in the lowest energy efficiency bands (EPC bands F and G). This was overlaid with income statistics from the Index of Multiple Deprivation. Along with average energy efficiency data, this reveals the ‘coldest neighbourhoods’ where homes are hardest to heat.

This spreadsheet identifies the coldest neighbourhoods. To further highlight the people and communities most impacted by the energy crisis, additional information has been added, including the proportion of people living in the neighbourhoods that are over 65, under 18, under 12 and who are people of colour, along with the number of private renters, social renters and homeowners.