Fuel poverty is a serious national problem in the UK, concludes an independent report into the problem out yesterday, and is likely to get worse.
According to report author John Hills of the London School of Economics, fuel poverty most affects those with low incomes who face above-average energy costs.
Current estimates, which are based on households that spend more than 10% of income on energy costs, put the number affected by fuel poverty at 5.5 million households as of 2009. This figure could increase to as much as 6.6 million as energy prices continue to rise.
But Hills says that the current definition of fuel poverty is unhelpful. Instead, the report recommends that fuel poverty should be defined by the number and type of those affected and by the severity of their problem.
Using the new measure, nearly 8 million people in 2.7 million households have both low incomes and high energy costs as of 2009, which is the most recent year with available data.
These households face annual energy costs of nearly £600 more than typical middle- or higher-income households, adding up to a total of up to £1.1 billion extra.
The report says that fuel poverty exacerbates hardship for those already on low incomes and contributes to serious health effects, including extra winter deaths.
The government must take action targeted at the core of the problem – improving the energy efficiency of low-income homes, says the report, but warns that proposed measures will only reduce the problem by around a tenth.
“The outlook is profoundly disappointing,” says Hills, “with the scale of the problem heading to be nearly three times higher in 2016 – the date legislation set for its elimination – than in 2003.”
Hills says a new and ambitious strategy is needed to improve the housing of those at most risk, which will be the most cost-effective way of tackling the problem and cutting energy waste at the same time.
In a written response to the report, Energy Secretary Ed Davey promised a consultation in the summer on a new approach to fuel poverty.
“It is important that this opportunity to improve the framework for tackling fuel poverty is seized,” he stated. “I therefore commit myself and the government to the adoption of a revised approach to measuring fuel poverty by the end of the year.”
He also pointed to the government’s forthcoming Green Deal home efficiency improvement scheme and the Energy Company Obligation as a step in the right direction.
But Friends of the Earth say that action on fuel poverty must be targeted at improving the energy efficiency of the homes of those with low incomes.
“It’s a national scandal that millions of people continue to shiver in poorly-insulated homes, yet government support is being cut – this must change,” says campaigner Dave Timms.
For further information:
UK home insulation levels making slow progress (8-Mar)
Subsidised insulation could lift 1.3 million UK homes out of fuel poverty (14-Dec 2011)
UK price rises could increase fuel poverty to 6.6 million homes (16-Aug 2011)
UK Government must change course on fuel poverty, say NGOs (20-Jul 2011)
UK Government launches independent review of fuel poverty (15-Mar 2011)
16 March 2012