Life in Blackout Britain: Experts warn energy rationing this winter could see people told not to cook until after 8pm, pubs close at 9pm, ‘three-day-a-week’ school, care homes cancel outings for residents and swimming pools left unheated
- Energy rationing ‘very possible’ for the UK this winter, Kathryn Porter, energy consultant at Watt-Logic said
- Homes, hospitals, schools, businesses and councils will have to reduce gas and electricity use, it was warned
- Millions could be asked to avoid cooking and using appliances in peak evening hours until after 8pm
- Liz Truss last night ruled out the idea, but energy expert said ‘you either have rationing or you have blackouts’
The scale of energy rationing that may be required at home, in the NHS, schools, care homes, shops, pubs and on the streets of Britain because of surging energy prices and the threat of blackouts is laid bare today.
Experts have told MailOnline there is ‘no escape’ for the 66million people in the UK who will be encouraged to cut their use of gas and electricity this winter and even turn off the lights when the wind drops.
Kathryn Porter, from consultancy Watt-Logic, fears that the crisis will cost lives in the coming months and told MailOnline: ‘We should keep our fingers crossed for a warm and windy winter’. Ms Porter has said that it’s ‘very possible’ the UK will see plans for energy rationing, despite Liz Truss, the likely next prime minister, absolutely ruling it out, but the energy expert added: ‘It would be voluntary, asking people to make a small sacrifice to avoid blackouts’.
Today it emerged that Britons could be asked to limit energy use this winter to head off blackouts by avoiding using gas and electricity at peak times in a move that will hit every part of life.
At home people may be encouraged not to use washing machines, dishwashers and ovens between 2pm and 8pm while charging cars before 9pm is also not advised when similar measures were imposed in the US this year. Abandoning the family weekday dinner at 6pm or the Sunday roast at 5pm may be required and moved to after 8pm or swapped for a cold dinner or leftovers.
The NHS Confederation has predicted that the solution for the health service will ‘have to be made up by fewer staff being employed, longer waiting times for care, or other areas of patient care being cut back’. NHS England guidance says staff must turning off equipment and lights and better control temperatures in hospitals and surgeries.
Schools have even discussed three-day weeks and classes could be combined to reduce the number of rooms that require heating each day.
While care homes are being forced to take drastic action to absorb soaring living costs such as reducing menu options, using washing machines less and cutting down on entertainment and outdoor trips for elderly and vulnerable residents.
Pubs are already turning out the lights as soaring energy bills hit the ailing hospitality sector – with last orders being made at 8.30pm and closing by 9pm, food service being stopped or sold for three hours from reduced menus and skeleton teams running venues to avoid financial ruin.
And councils may choose to copy Germany where street lights are being dimmed, traffic lights at quieter junctions are turned off, hot water and central heating is off in public buildings and monuments will no longer be lit overnight. UK municipal swimming pools could be made colder to reduce heating bills.
These are the areas of British life that may be hit by rationing and the fight to save costs:
In the home: Cold dinners, washing in the mornings and lights off when the wind is not blowing
Millions could be forced to make sacrifices at home to avoid blackouts – but it could hit family life including when they eat their dinner and swapping a hot meal for cold leftovers or a salad.
Parents and their children would be encouraged to eat later, or eat something that does not require cooking.
Kathryn Porter, from consultancy Watt-Logic, expects that authorities could ask consumers to reduce their use of electricity during peak hours, such as 2pm or 4pm to 8pm.
In the US tens of millions of people have been asked not to use washing machines, dishwashers and ovens between 2pm and 8pm because of the global energy crisis and reduce strain on power stations. Charging cars before 9pm is also not advised.
As statistics show wind power generation of electricity is dropping after years of growth, Britons could be asked to turn off the lights if the wind doesn’t blow
Families may be asked to cut their energy usage this winter to avoid blackouts if the weather ‘doesn’t go in our favour’, an energy expert has warned
Ms Porter said: ‘People could do their laundry, cook hot meals before or after the time period’, but added that Britons must not ‘avoid cooking a hot meal if you have young children or vulnerable people in your home’.
‘It is possible we will see something similar here this winter,’ she said, adding: ‘I think it would be more an appeal or request for people to have their dinner earlier or later, or avoid using large appliances like washing machines during peak hours. I think it would be voluntary rather than compulsory’.
A lack of wind could also come into play.
She said: ‘We have had quite low wind output in July and August…Demand is a lot higher in the winter, so if we have those weather conditions in the winter, our system is going to get very tight and that raises a risk of blackouts’.
Heavy industry users are also being braced to suspend or scale back production to protect supplies to homes.
Separately, contingency plans exist to dim the lights across parts of the country by turning down the voltage in the national cable grid in what are known as ‘brown outs’.
The NHS: How energy bill crisis could make dire situation in hospitals even worse and care could have to be ‘cut back’ this winter
NHS treatment may have to be rationed this winter because of ever-increasing energy bills, health bosses fear in the face of a mammoth backlog and crises in the A&E and ambulance sectors.
Startling projections reveal some trusts face spending twice, or even three times as much as they did last year on electricity and gas.
Trusts aren’t covered by Ofgem’s 80 per cent price cap on electricity and gas, and so are even more vulnerable to surging prices in the coming months. As a result, health chiefs have had to ring-fence £1.5billion to fund the soaring bills.
Rory Deighton, of the NHS Confederation — which represents the healthcare system across England, Wales and Northern Ireland — said: ‘This isn’t an abstract problem.’
He said the solution ‘will either have to be made up by fewer staff being employed, longer waiting times for care, or other areas of patient care being cut back’.
HM Treasury data shows the NHS received £100.4billion in 2010/11 and its budget had grown steadily until 2019. In 2020, the NHS was given £129.7billion of core funding for its usual services, which was topped up with an extra £18billion to help with the pressures from the pandemic. For 2021/22 the Treasury said the health service is set to receive £136.1billion pounds of core funding, as well as £3billion to help with the Covid recovery
HOW BAD IS THE NHS CRISIS IN ENGLAND?
The overall waiting list jumped to 6.73million in June. This is up from 6.61m in May and is the highest number since records began in August 2007.
There were 3,861 people waiting more than two years to start treatment at the end of June, down from 8,028 in May but still higher than April 2021, when the figure started to be recorded.
The number of people waiting more than a year to start hospital treatment was 355,774, up from 331,623 the previous month and the highest ever logged.
A record 29,317 people had to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England in July. The figure is up from 22,034 in June and is the highest for any month since record began in 2010.
A total of 136,221 people waited at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission in July, down slightly from the all-time high of 136,298 in March.
Just 71 per cent of patients were seen within four hours at A&Es last month, the worst ever performance. NHS standards set out that 95 per cent should be admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour window.
The average category one response time – calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – was nine minutes and 35 seconds. The target time is seven minutes.
Ambulances took an average of 59 minutes and seven seconds to respond to category two calls, such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is three times longer than the 18 minute target.
Response times for category three calls – such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes – averaged three hours, 17 minutes and six seconds. Ambulances are supposed to arrive to these calls within two hours.
Some 430,037 patients (27.5 per cent) were waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in June, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy.
The same organisation previously warned health bosses will inevitably have to make ‘impossible choices’ over the coming months, unless the ‘perilous’ situation is solved with billions more the public purse.
New technologies are often the first area to be cut when purse-strings are tightened.
Diagnostic capacity will also be under threat, despite being a ‘key area’ in reducing the Covid-induced backlog that has left nearly 7million patients in England waiting for routine hospital treatment.
At the same time as soaring energy bills, critics have claimed that the NHS could see another £1.8billion ‘raided’ from its own budget simply to meet No10’s proposed pay rise for staff.
Department of Health bosses have rejected these fears, however.
Analysts predict the health service will need at least another £4billion to account for spiralling costs. As a result, NHS chiefs are demanding another emergency top-up in the coming autumn’s budget.
‘That (£4billion estimate) is before we face a winter of even higher wholesale energy prices,’ the NHS Confederation added.
Right-wing think-tanks have repeatedly described the NHS as being a ‘blackhole of taxpayer money’.
Their argument — that the health service is in dire need of reform, not extra cash — is that its budget has drastically increased under the Conservative Government yet performances have worsened.
Waiting times for routine ops, such as hip and knee replacements, shot up to record highs were way before Covid reached British shores. But the pandemic, and knock-on effects of lockdown, have seen queues hit an all-time high.
Ambulance response times have gone down the pan, so badly so that even heart attack patients have been left waiting three hours to be taken to hospital.
A&E performance has also plunged to dire levels, with waiting times worse than ever. Campaigners have called the situation ‘apocalyptic’.
The NHS in England already gets £150billion a year, compared to roughly £100billion just a decade ago.
Under Boris Johnson, it was promised an extra £30billion a year through the highly-controversial levy to get ‘back on its feet’ after the pandemic.
But Liz Truss, the frontrunner to replace him as Prime Minister, has already pledged to divert all of that to social care, which is simultaneously being battered by its own crisis.
The number of people in England on the waiting list for routine hospital treatment hit a record 6.7million in June — meaning one in eight are now stuck in the backlog
Latest NHS England data for July shows that more than 29,000 sickened people waited 12 hours at A&E units last month (yellow lines) — four times more than the NHS target and up by a third on June, which was the previous record. Meanwhile, the proportion of patients seen within four hours — the timeframe 95 per cent of people are supposed to be seen within — dropped to 71 per cent last month (red line), the lowest rate logged since records began in 2010
NHS England ambulance figures show the average wait for heart attack and stroke victims surpassed 59 minutes for only the second time ever (red bars). The yellow line shows the number of category two calls, which hit 379,460
Experts brutally described it as being like ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.
NHS Confederation also believes this year’s inflation effectively means this is the ‘first real-terms cut in funding since 1997’.
As well as piling extra financial pressure on hospitals, experts fear the cost of living crisis could exacerbate the workforce crisis.
Damning figures yesterday revealed that one in 10 full-time posts were vacant at the end of June in England, the highest proportion since records began almost five years ago.
The staffing crisis is one of the key factors fuelling the performances issues.
Ministers were in May warned there was ‘real risk of a mass exodus’ of staff who can get better-paid jobs in pubs, shops and supermarkets.
Care homes: Residents face fewer meal options and less trips or entertainments
Care homes are being forced to take drastic action to absorb soaring living costs such as reducing menu options, using washing machines less and cutting down on entertainment for elderly residents.
But despite this many fear that they will not be able to survive the winter unless there is urgent government intervention.
A recent survey by the Independent Care Group (ICG) found that 93 per cent of the homes they spoke to starting to make savings.
But where food, heating and staffing cannot be cut back on, going on less outings, buying more budget food brands and halting non-refurbishment such as painting and decorating is a way of recouping costs for providers.
Mike Padgham, chair of the ICG, said: ‘If a care home has several outings a week they might reduce it to two.
‘If they had entertainers in several times a week, they might have to look at reducing that.
‘It’s not what [care homes] want to do in the perfect world but they have to cut back somewhere.
‘It’s regretful and it’s the last resort’.
It comes as 96 per cent of care homes said they were experiencing increased costs on essentials such as energy and staffing.
Saint Cecilia’s Care Group, which runs five care homes across Scarborough in North Yorkshire, said it had seen a 162 per cent rise in energy and 169 per cent increase in gas bills over the last four years.
Mr Padgham said he had been working in the care sector for more than 30 years and ‘it’s the worst I’ve ever known’.
‘It does keep me awake at night. I’m worried about the winter coming up,’ he said.
Mr Padgham continued: ‘There’s some things we can’t cut back on, like food and energy because we still have to feed the residents properly and heat the homes correctly.
‘We also can’t cut back on staff, which are our biggest costs. That’s why we fear for the future of some care homes – can they make ends meet?
‘It’s as challenging if not more challenging than Covid, which we’re still coping with.’
One campaigner told MailOnline she received worried calls from families on a daily basis, concerned that their loved ones are not getting the right nutrition due to ‘cutting corners’ amid rising food costs.
Jayne Connery, founder of Care Campaign for the Vulnerable, said: ‘Families are worrying what nutrition their loved ones are getting.’
‘Every day we are receiving calls from families saying that they’re noticing nutrition in care homes is being affected, and care homes are struggling to get the right nutrition for the right cost.’
Will Donnelly, founder of the care home comparison website Lottie, said that they are seeing more homes find different ways to absorb the rising energy costs.
‘For instance, some homes are reviewing the cost of their fees, which is something that they’ve been very reluctant to do, but it is unavoidable,’ he said.
‘Some homes have been reducing menu options and using washing machines less to lower costs.’
‘This is a very distressing and anxious time for residents and their families’,
And Ms Connery said increased care home bills is a real concern for the families she speaks to every day.
‘‘We’ve got elderly people, predominantly with dementia in care homes, and their families are coming to us saying that their bills are going up,’ she continued.
‘They’re coming to us saying this isn’t sustainable.’
Schools: Threat of a three-day week and combining classes to save on costs
Some school leaders could implement a three-day week this winter to mitigate against soaring electricity and gas costs – while others might restrict heating and cut staff as they face five-fold energy bill increases, it is claimed.
Headteachers have told the Times Educational Supplement (TES) that their budgets were ‘never designed’ to cope with such rises in costs.
Marc Jordan, the chief executive of the multi-academy Creative Education Trust, said he had heard discussions about a ‘three-day week’ to save on energy bills.
And Robin Bevan, headmaster of Southend High School for Boys in Essex, said ‘if a four-day week is not already being planned, it will certainly be being considered’ by some schools.
One large multi-academy trust will see its energy bill go up from £9.2million last year to £14.3million this year, while a survey by the TES of 121 senior leaders found more than three-quarters will consider limiting heating.
Laura McInerney, co-founder of the teacher survey app Teacher Tapp, said schools are having to cut back on textbooks and laboratory equipment, and that ‘school trips seem likely to go out of the window’.
The Ridgeway Education Trust in Oxfordshire, which runs three schools, said its reserves of £1million will be gone in just a year because of the surge in its gas and electricity contracts from October.
The NAHT school leaders’ union said some members have reported 500 per cent rises in energy bills – while schools are also having to fund a Government-awarded 5 per cent rise for experienced teachers from this month.
And St Gregory CEVC Primary School in Suffolk said that it had decided not to renew any expiring fixed-term support staff contracts which would help them pay for their rising energy costs.
Kathryn Porter, an energy expert from consultancy Watt-Logic, said consolidating classes and cutting hours or teaching staff could be methods used to save costs – although shorter days would increase home energy use.
Swimming pools could be made colder, libraries made ‘warm hubs’ and monuments no longer lit up to save energy
The charity Libraries Connected said more than 80 per cent of libraries expect a rise in people using the spaces to keep warm this winter, and many have started preparing by installing extra desks and more comfortable chairs.
Many libraries will also be offering extra services such as hot drinks, warm clothes and advice on managing bills – but the extra energy costs faced by councils means library budges will become stretched in the coming months.
But Isobel Hunter, chief executive of the charity, warned that libraries across Britain are ‘now involved in council-wide discussions on economising and on budget cuts which could mean reducing opening hours’.
Suffolk Libraries will provide its sites as ‘warm and welcoming places where anyone can come during the colder months’, and it will provide ‘kindness racks’ for people to donate winter clothes for others to collect.
In Dorset, the council said it is ‘considering a range of options including whether to extend opening of public buildings, such as libraries, to help people have safe and warm places to be during the colder months’.
And the temperatures of swimming pools could be reduced in winter in an effort to cut energy bills, with the GM Active operator in Greater Manchester saying it ‘can’t rule out’ this in future – although there are no plans to do it yet.
In Germany, showers in swimming pools and sports halls are now unheated to help reduce energy costs, while private pools cannot be heated with gas and electricity, except for rehab centres, recreational facilities and hotels.
Some UK swimming pools are struggling to stay open, with the community-run Buckfastleigh open air pool in Bideford, Devon, among those that may have to shut after it saw bills rise from £9,000 last year to £27,000 this year.
Leisure industry body UKActive said that swimming pools were unable to cope with rising energy bills, with the cost of heating all of them in Britain expected to rise to £1.25billion this year, from £500million in 2019.
Chelmsford City Council in Essex has pledged to keep its pools open this winter, despite it is costing an extra £480,000 this year to heat the sites at Riverside and South Woodham Ferrers – double the amount from last year.
Meanwhile the owner of Shirley Swimming Pool in Southampton is trying to raise £25,000 to save it from having to shut because of the energy crisis, as its running costs increase from £30,000 per year to £150,000.
One public swimming pool in Bristol is well-prepared for the crisis having reduced its heating bill to zero by installing new solar-powered technology on its roof, which means it now is heated to 30C entirely by the sun.
But bosses at Easton Leisure Centre in Bristol, which had the 800 solar thermal tubes added in May, said that if the energy provided is not sufficient to keep the pool at the right temperature over winter, its gas boilers will kick in.
Councils in the UK will face soaring bills this winter, and could copy the example of Germany where authorities have been switching off hot water and central heating in public buildings and not lighting monuments overnight.
Berlin has plunged about 200 historic monuments and municipal buildings such as the city’s cathedral, Old Palace and Charlottenburg Palace into darkness overnight as the city switches off spotlights to save electricity.
Hanover has cut hot water to public buildings, swimming pools and gyms, turned off lights in museums and let fountains run dry. Mobile air conditioning units and fan heaters are now banned in municipal buildings – and while heating will be allowed from October to March, this will only be allowed to reach 20C (68F) room temperature.
Other cities are now dimming street lights – such as Weimar, where they are coming on half an hour later. While this has not yet been confirmed as happening in Britain, the Local Government Association said councils have seen a 38 per cent rise in the cost of running and repairing streetlights over the last six months.
Councils and voluntary organisations across the UK are also organising ‘warmth banks’ or ‘heat hubs’ in public buildings to provide shelter for people who cannot pay soaring energy bills this winter, especially the elderly.
Last orders at 9pm, beer gardens shut and food only served for three hours a day: Bleak vision of future of pubs
Pubs are already turning out the lights as soaring energy bills hit the ailing hospitality sector – with last orders called hours earlier, food being cut and skeleton teams running venues to avoid financial ruin.
It comes as the chair of the British Chambers of Commerce, Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, today warned that two-thirds of pubs could face closure, risking hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Landlords are reporting 400% increases in the price of their bills, costs they are largely unable to cut as they rely on constant gas and electricity supplies to serve customers.
And Michelin-starred celebrity chef and pub owner Tom Kerridge warned the annual energy bill at one of his pubs is set to rise from £60,000 to a ‘ludicrous’ £420,000.
The sharp increase in energy costs mean pubs are facing a tough choice between passing the extra burden onto loyal customers, who are also struggling with the rising cost-of-living, cutting menus and even staff, or shutting shop completely.
The Plough, in Whitstable, Kent, has seen its utilities bills skyrocket from £8,000 to £33,000
The lack of a price cap on energy rates is only the latest crisis facing the ailing hospitality sector, with many landlords and restaurateurs tracing their woes back to the pandemic.
They are also continuing to work through a staffing crisis, with chefs and waiting staff leaving the sector in droves for more stable jobs and restaurateurs saying they have had to raise wages to keep their teams.
Publicans have told MailOnline that they are now only staying in the industry either for the love of it or because they have no choice, as they are no longer turning a profit.
Some, who are just about managing, explain here what they have had to sacrifice to stay afloat…
Melissa Evans, 47, who has been in the industry for 21 years and a landlady for the last three and a half, said the rise in prices is beyond laughable.
She said her pub, The Plough, in Whitstable, Kent, has seen its utilities bills skyrocket in recent months.
Her original business plan when she took on the pub forecasted bills for electricity and gas at £8,000 per year, which she described as ‘amusing’ in hindsight.
Melissa Evans, 47, who has been in the industry for 21 years, said the rise in prices is beyond laughable
‘I’m now looking at £33,000 just for gas and I now need to work that into my business without affecting my staff and customers,’ she said.
She added that she only managed to secure that deal last week after shopping around and negotiating with suppliers, as most energy companies are not offering fixed deals at the moment,’ she added.
She said the only way they have been able to cope so far is by cutting back wherever they can and running on a skeleton team, and often works for free herself.
‘I’ve had to think differently on how to run the pub,’ Ms Evans said.
‘Weekdays we now close around 9pm, we only really use our restaurant area at weekends to save on staff costs.
‘We are a small team, some weeks we could do with a few more of us, but we’ve all decided so no one loses money we all do a bit longer when needed. I work lots of shifts as obviously I’m ‘free’ labour.’
The landlady said that there will likely be a knock-on effect to the local community, both in terms of jobs and providing a leisure spot for punters.
‘The sad part is I host music all weekend but I will have to cut back now which again will lead to a knock on effect with all the musicians that rely on bookings,’ she said.
‘We now only do food from 12 until three so fryers aren’t on too long.
‘We had to reduce my menu so we don’t have too much food to go to waste.
‘Quotes for gas were crazy from 27p per unit 64p per day charge to 47p with 80p charges it’s totally frightening.
‘[We] used to hold a big variety of food as we were able to stay open longer but now we cannot afford to run 12 until eight as it would mean having a chef and waiting staff, both quite large wage bills.’
She added that she has now taken on the mantel of chef as they no longer have one, with just eight staff members in total.
On top of this, she said: ‘Beer and gas have increased a lot, barrels are now £30-40 more and gas has increased for £15.95 a canister to £29.95.’
Ms Evans said that they are switching off outside lighting and appliances to save energy.
‘The government need to come up with some kind of discount for businesses or we will all struggle to survive.’
She added: ‘You really need to be up for running a pub for the love of it as it’s certainly not to earn a living anymore!’
The Ye Olde Fleece Inn in Kendal, which dates back to 1654, has seen a huge increase of £80,000 to its annual electricity bill, which it is already struggling to manage.
The beloved historic pub currently pays £44,000 for its electricity bill, but was last week quoted £124,000 which its owners expect to come in this autumn.
Chris Moss is a director of Westmorland Hospitality, which runs the Fleece.
He worked as an emergency doctor before moving into the industry four years ago, and told the MailOnline that the current crisis facing the sector means ‘it is now easier to run an A&E department than a pub’.
The director says he has had to roll his sleeves up to keep costs down.
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