UK ‘warm banks’ erupt as temperatures drop – DW – 12/16/2022 | Daily News Byte

UK ‘warm banks’ erupt as temperatures drop – DW – 12/16/2022

 | Daily News Byte

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Britons have long been familiar with food banks which have mushroomed over the past decade to help feed people struggling on low incomes.

Now, as the cost of living crisis rises, so-called warm banks have opened in the UK for people unable to heat their homes due to skyrocketing energy bills.

So far, about 3,500 heat banks, dedicated places where people can access free heating, often with hot tea and sometimes free Wi-Fi, have sprung up.

It houses the famous Royal Opera House of London. Accustomed to attracting the world’s top ballet dancers, the 290-year-old institution has opened its doors to those in need of extra warmth this winter. There’s even a free lunchtime concert to boot.

“Local councils are trying to offer warm spaces that are not just a room with nothing in it,” said Alexandra Hesby, general manager of the Royal Opera House.

A mix of elderly, retired people and local workers descend to soak up the free warmth. A retired woman who wished to remain anonymous told DW that she spent the day looking for warm public spaces to keep her bill down.

Churches and gaming cafes have rebranded themselves as cozy banks this winter, while libraries are gearing up for extended hours in the new year to keep both the elderly and young children warm.

Computer engineer Jason Baldry put together warmspaces.org in his spare time, a website with an interactive map that organizes all the warm spaces across the UK. Over a thousand hot banks have been listed, with more yet to be marked.

His inbox is flooded with people “really just crying out for help saying ‘I’m on benefits. I can’t afford to heat my house. What do I do?’.”

Royal Opera House, London
The Royal Opera House in London has thrown its doors open to those struggling to keep warm as temperatures drop.Photo: Shafi Masaddiq

Rising cost of living

Energy bills in the UK will rise by 73% to an average household price of 4,350 pounds ($5,330, €5,063) from April, after the UK government scrapped it to keep energy prices below 2,500 pounds for two years.

According to a report by the University College London (UCL) Institute of Healthy Equity, there were an estimated 63,000 extra winter deaths in England and Wales in 2020-21. 10% of extra winter deaths in England are directly attributable to fuel poverty, which is higher than the Northern European average.

Campaigners say the UK government needs both short- and long-term solutions.

Simon Francis, campaign co-ordinator for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, believes the government could raise £22 billion from a windfall tax on energy companies “if they wanted to”.

“We need 14 billion pounds alone to keep everyone warm this winter,” he told DW at a rally for the fuel hike outside the Houses of Parliament.

“They can raise it at the stroke of a pen, and they can put it in people’s pockets, targeting the most vulnerable.”

Francis added that “the government will have enough windfall tax left to invest in energy efficiency which is the medium-term part of the plan.”

UK Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt has announced an increase in the current windfall tax on oil and gas companies from 25% to 35% from January 2023. The move is expected to raise 14 billion pounds next year. Hunt extended the recovery of energy profits by two years until March 2028.

Rising costs in the UK are pushing more people into poverty

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Work from the pub

The energy crisis and inflation are also weighing on the fortunes of the famous British pub, long a center of social life in the UK. An average of 50 pubs are closing in England and Wales every month as energy bills and inflation rise.

To ensure their survival, pubs are now inviting remote office workers to come in and use their facilities.

Some of the Fuller Brewery chain’s 380 pubs offer lunch and tea for £10 a day, while another pub chain, Young’s, has 185 outlets serving remote workers bottomless tea and coffee for £15.

Others like Brewhouse and Kitchen in Cardiff and Bristol offer a package that includes free Wi-Fi and printing services.

General manager Derek Stapleton told DW that his pub by the River Thames had almost closed “after the post-Brexit pandemic and a brutal couple of years with staff”.

The pick-up in business has so far been small, Stapleton says, but hopefully with sub-freezing temperatures across the UK this week, many people may be tempted to save on their own household bills.

Louise Mitchell, a writer, is one of those who chooses to work from the pub.

“I couldn’t concentrate at home after two years of working from home,” she told DW.

“Apart from the odd guy drinking at 9am, it tends to be quiet for most of the morning. Zoom calls can be weird here, especially with the decor of the pub,” she said. “But I’ll open a beer at the end of my work day.”

Edited by: Ashutosh Pandey

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