I noticed it again as I was walking home the other evening in the dense fog having been out leafleting. I first began to notice it the winter before last when going to and coming from work.
It took a while to make the connection, which may relate to a combination of the time I then had to get up to go to work and that grim pre-serious coffee state of mind. It ties in with cold snaps and also the housing stock – the ‘it’ in question is the smell of wood smoke.
When it is particularly cold the smell of wood smoke in certain parts of Newport can be overwhelming in both the morning and the early evening. The smell of wood smoke rather than a sign of affluence is actually a sign of austerity. It shows that people are up against it when it comes to heating their homes and trying to save money.
If you are lucky enough to live in an older house, anything pre- 1970’s then you may be lucky enough to still have old fireplaces in situ, which are so I observe increasingly being put back into operation. A resultant increased demand for firewood, may explain what a few friends have said in recent years about periodic spikes in the price of firewood. More people are struggling to pay their heating bills and being reduced to making a potentially grim choice or heat or eat.
For people who live in rural areas things can be grimmer, then for a start most are not on mains gas, so energy bills can be equally as grim in rural areas as well. Here it can literally come down to a choice of leaving the heating off to save money and choosing to put food on. In Wales around 400,000 customers are not on mains gas, and they often face higher energy prices having very little consumer protection.
Welsh families face the highest energy bills in the UK whilst more than a quarter of households in our country are classified in fuel poverty – this means that they spend a high proportion of their income on heating their homes. The Labour in Wales government promised to eliminate fuel poverty by 2018, but it is widely accepted that this target, like so many others, just will not be met.
The Party of Wales has already announced ambitious plans to help families bring down their energy bills. A Plaid Cymru government would introduce the biggest home retrofitting scheme Wales has ever seen, so that people can access support to better insulate their homes. Under Plaid Cymru’s plans, we can bring families out of fuel poverty, boost the economy and put money back in people’s pockets.
Plaid Cymru has set out its plans to reverse Wales’ status as one of the most fuel poor nations within the UK. Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Environment rightly said that it is scandalous that more than a quarter of households in Wales are in fuel poverty and that energy prices in Wales are up to 10% higher than elsewhere.
This is largely down to poor energy infrastructure, and old housing stock and a failure to tackle abuses in the market. A Plaid Cymru government, if elected in May, would drive down home energy bills by introducing the biggest retrofitting scheme Wales has ever seen, and establish a not for profit arms-length energy company to drive down market prices.