As the UK faces electricity price hikes that will push many into fuel poverty, advice for staying warm abounds. Far too much of it is coming from people who clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. The ‘just wear a jumper’ solution is a popular example of this. Without understanding how poverty impacts on people, we aren’t going to prepare well or help each other.
A jumper keeps warmth in, it doesn’t heat you. That works ok in cool temperatures, when you are moving around, or when your body can burn calories for warmth. Food prices are going up. If you can’t afford to heat or eat properly a jumper is of little use. The colder it gets, the less those extra layers can do to help you. In very cold conditions, the body distress over hours of being cold is immense. I’ve been there. People can and do die of hypothermia.
If you can’t afford heat, you are probably also going to struggle with the costs of doing laundry, which of course requires heating water. A jumper is a large item to wash. Even if you are really careful about trying to keep it clean, after a week or so of being worn all the time, a jumper will start to smell a bit cheesy, and then increasingly cheesy. If you think hand washing clothes in cold water is going to solve this, it isn’t. You don’t get clothes as clean in a cold wash, and this is punishing on your hands when your environment is cold. I have done it and I do not recommend it.
Then you have to get the jumper dry. Good luck doing that without using energy in a cold home that is already damp because that’s what happens in cold conditions. If you cannot dry your clothes fast enough they will rot – can you afford to replace them? If it takes 2 days to dry a jumper, it will smell like a wet dog. You might be able to hang it outside, but winter weather is notoriously bad at drying clothes.
The old ‘wear an extra jumper’ trick works much better with an open fire – which is something older people are more likely to have experienced. An open fire may not make your home super-warm, but it does tend to make for a drier home, and you can stick your laundry in front of it. I’ve done this too. It’s not optimal, but it is workable.
If you’re making fires and keeping them going and hand washing laundry then this of course is cheaper in terms of money. It’s expensive in terms of time. Back when this way of living was more normal, it was possible to run a home on one income. It’s not technically possible to fund a contemporary household through work while also doing as much domestic labour as an early twentieth century housewife.
I’m all for re-skilling and using slower and less energy-intensive ways of doing things. But, you have to be set up for that. You certainly can’t do it alongside a host of other labour intensive things, and you can’t do it if you are ill or in pain. Wringing out a massive wet jumper by hand takes quite a lot of effort.
We need to resist these suggestions that the problem is people not trying hard enough and not being willing to put up with some discomfort. Cold, wet homes are a nightmare. Modern build isn’t designed for you to live how your great granny did. The extra jumper causes as many problems as it solves.