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A whistlestop tour of DECC’s Fuel Poverty Trends

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Yesterday, DECC published their Fuel Poverty Statistics covering 2012: there was a lot of media coverage and response (here’s the Telegraph article, and here’s the Independent, and here’s what the Energy Bill Revolution had to say). You can download the DECC statistics here.

Along with the general statistics, DECC published data on Fuel Poverty Trends for 2003-12, and we thought we should explore these a little, to see how the world has changed.

There were fewer households in fuel poverty in 2012 than in 2006

The number of fuel households rose every year from 2006 to 2010. Both 2011 and 2012 saw decreases, back below the 2006 (decade low) level. This is very encouraging. Given that energy prices have continued to rise, the fall in fuel poverty must be due to a combination of large scale energy efficiency programmes (at that time, CERT and CESP), income related measures (eg, Warm Home Discount) and individual behaviour (ie, deciding to use less energy).

The number of older people in fuel poverty has fallen, but their fuel poverty gap has grown

Some good news: the number of people over 60, living alone who are in fuel poverty has fallen consistently and rapidly, from 470,000 to 200,000. This is still a significant number, and is vindication for the active targeting of fuel poverty support and interventions at older households.

That said, older households – whether single or couples – face the biggest average fuel poverty gap, that is, they would need to spend more than other types of households to achieve adequate warmth (on average £495 for a single occupant and £530 for a couple (2012 prices)).

There are more families in fuel poverty – and more working families too

There has been an increase in both the number of working households in fuel poverty, and in the number of couples with dependent children in fuel poverty (this rate has been increasing steadily since 2003). Almost half of fuel poor households are classified as employed. The failure of wages to keep pace with inflation means that people who do not necessarily qualify for income related benefits are feeling the pressure of energy bills; it turns out the middle is being squeezed after all.

The number of lone parent households in fuel poverty has fallen, but it’s still 20% and therefore a noticeable problem.

Whilst one- and two-person households account for around half of fuel poverty, there is a significant number of 5+ person households who are fuel poor.

Prepayment meters remain an issue

Those on prepayment meters are still disproportionately likely to be fuel poor. Whilst the percentage of prepayment households in fuel poverty has fallen over time, the actual number of households with prepayment meters has increased (ie, more meters have been installed). This means that the total number of prepayment customers who are fuel poor has increased too. Interestingly, the fuel poverty gap faced by people on prepayment meters is lower than that for people on direct debit or standard credit.

What’s happening in London?

In absolute terms, some 277,000 Londoners are estimated as being in fuel poverty.

London’s fuel poverty rate has fluctuated between 8 and 11% over the past decade. By contrast, the poorest performing regions in the West and East Midlands have rates of 15% and 13% respectively and have seen recent increases, whilst regions in the North of England have generally seen a noticeable decline in fuel poverty.

Fuel poverty in the private rented sector is disproportionately high; this is a particular challenge for London with its high rate of privately rented properties.

Whilst the statistics suggest a positive trend, DECC’s projections suggest that fuel poverty will rise when the figures for 2013 and 2014 are published. We mustn’t forget that energy prices have risen significantly in the past two years, whilst the support available for energy efficiency measures has fallen (some would say collapsed). As the Energy Bill Revolution rightly says, energy efficiency is the only surefire way to keep someone out of fuel poverty. Let’s get campaigning for a greater commitment to improving the nation’s housing stock, to provide affordable warmth for those who need it most.

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