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Fuel poverty research presented to Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change by Mari Martiskainen
2.35 million households in England living in poor quality, energy inefficient housing have to decide each winter whether to ‘eat or heat’. They live in cold homes because they can’t afford to pay their fuel bills and then suffer from respiratory illnesses which have long-term effects on their health and wellbeing, and sometimes fatal consequences. Last year, England and Wales experienced the highest number of ‘excess winter deaths’ in fifteen years, with 43,900 dying – 27% more than during the non-winter months.
It’s an urgent issue that needs solutions. A workshop on Community Solutions to Fuel Poverty was held on 13th May in Hastings – an area badly affected by fuel poverty – and was attended by a mix of stakeholders, including local government, community groups, academics, energy utilities, as well as the local MP, RT Hon Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The aim of the workshop was to bring together a range of expertise in fuel poverty work and present concrete policy recommendations to the Secretary of State.
Dr Brenda Boardman spoke about the challenges of identifying those who live in fuel poverty at the workshop, which was organised by non-profit organisation Energise Sussex Coast. Boardman, who envisaged the concept of fuel poverty 25 years ago while doing her PhD at SPRU, said many fuel poor are ‘hidden’. They might not want to seek help due to the stigma attached to being fuel poor or don’t know how to seek help, or they are ‘chaotic’ people who face a myriad of problems, of which fuel poverty is only one.
The Secretary of State said that “addressing climate change addresses fuel poverty”. Rudd said the government was working with The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to provide guidelines on how to deal with fuel poverty and highlighted the importance of working with local GPs and local councils, especially in focusing government funding on the most cost-effective way to help those living in fuel poverty.
I later asked the Secretary of State what the government was doing in order to better identify those who might be vulnerable to fuel poverty and Rudd responded that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was working with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to see if data sharing between the two departments was possible, although she provided no further details on whether and how that might be done. However, as Boardman previously highlighted, with 20% of those people living in fuel poverty not claiming any benefits, identifying the fuel poor via data on those receiving benefits would mean that some people wouldn’t be identified and reached.
One of the issues discussed widely in the workshop was the private rented sector and how, despite landlords’ obligation to pay for energy efficiency measures, many tenants end up living in very poor housing conditions.
A key policy recommendation made to the Secretary of State was the need to invest in better quality, energy efficient housing across all housing tenures, including owner-occupied as well as the private and social rented sectors. An area-based, street-by-street approach was suggested to address the energy efficiency of housing.
Rudd said that the government was continuing to work with landlords on addressing the issue. The Secretary of State also stressed that any energy efficiency works undertaken in people’s homes should be to a good standard. She also said that the government’s review by Dr Peter Bonfield on consumer advice, protection, standards and enforcement for energy efficiency and renewable energy was due to report soon, with details on how these standards would potentially be enforced.
At present funding, albeit limited, is channeled to fuel poverty work via energy utilities in the form of the Energy Company Obligation. However attendees at the workshop thought that local authorities would be better placed to deal with fuel poverty. This would also help to frame fuel poverty not just as an energy, or carbon issue, but also a social and health issue. Enabling local authorities to work closer together with community groups and health authorities would provide a better targeted service to those faced with fuel poverty. This would, however, require on-going funding and data sharing between different authorities, which is a contested and difficult area to address.
Our research in this area could help. We found that community-led ‘energy shops’ could act as a triage service bringing together local authorities, community groups and the health service to assess the needs of each client and then refer them to other forms of intervention depending on needs.
It remains to be seen whether and how the final and formal policy recommendations from the workshop will be listened to. At the workshop the Secretary of State struggled to remember how many people the government had lifted out of fuel poverty. While this might have been a temporary oversight, the fact that energy efficiency does not feature prominently in Lord Adonis’ National Infrastructure Commission is not.
Much remains to be done. As Dr Mary Gillie from Energy Local pointed out, we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world and yet fuel poverty, which kills people every year, is allowed to persist.
Dr Mari Martiskainen is a Research Fellow at the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand based at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU). Mari has worked on a range of research projects including topics such as building energy efficiency policies, innovation processes linked to community energy, influences on household energy consumption and the diffusion of small scale renewable energy technologies.
This blog was originally posted on The University of Sussex website.
Across Europe and North America, fuel poverty is on the rise: as many as 100 million people are estimated to be unable to afford to keep their homes adequately warm during winter months.
EnAct (The Energy Action Project), in association with multiple partners, presents Cold@Home, a multimedia project that investigates the underlying causes of fuel poverty, its impacts on people and society, and the measures being taken by diverse actors to address it.
Cold@Home’s underlying message is that fuel poverty is not about being poor. In most cases, the combination of low quality housing and high energy prices drives people into financial hardship, ultimately compromising their health and well‐being.
Cold@Home will evolve as it unfolds. EnAct will welcome questions from it audiences, accept ideas for new stories or angles, and engage with additional experts as needed.
See the full press release here:
We blogged recently about the new Fuel Poverty Strategy Consultation. Now you can have your say!
NEA are running a series of six free seminars during September and October, to give people a chance to hear from DECC about thinking on fuel poverty, to share best practice and to contribute to the development of the strategy.
There’s more information and a booking form at http://www.nea.org.uk/campaigns-events/fp-strategy-seminars.
The London seminar will be held on the morning of Thursday 4 September. If you can’t make that, then there will be a session in Peterborough on 11 September (other sessions are a bit further afield but are listed on the website).
This sounds like a great opportunity to get under the skin of the Fuel Poverty Strategy consultation and make sure your voice – and the voices of those you represent – are heard in this important policy area.
The Government’s Fuel Poverty Strategy is due out for consultation very shortly. As part of the discussion at the Carbon Action Network Training Day in Manchester recently, local authorities, housing providers, energy advisors and others discussed the potential impact of the new strategy, based on the approach laid out in DECC’s Framework for Future Action on Fuel Poverty. You can read a full write-up of discussions here.
Below, we have summarised a few of the key points raised:
- The Low Income High Costs definition is not yet in use at a local level, and many delivery organisations are struggling to explain it to senior decision makers and to translate it into strategies for targeting at a local level
- The reduction in the number of fuel poor households brought about by the change of definition means that fuel poverty might be seen as less of an issue in some places
- The various obligations, incentives, rebates and policies are complex to navigate; changes to them, announced in a hurry, have a damaging effect on people’s ability to deliver fuel poverty interventions locally
- There are some great examples of data sharing, wider engagement (eg, with CCGs), partnerships and outreach, but it’s still hard for organisations to find out what others are doing and to translate that work into their own organisation.
Many of the discussion points from the Manchester Conference apply equally to local authorities, housing providers and others in London. We’d be keen to hear from you about how your organisation will be responding, particularly to the change in definition and how you might target fuel poverty activities differently in future. Get in touch: @LDNFuelPoverty or email@example.com.
Established by the UK Health Forum, the Healthy Places website focuses on factors affecting public health that are new, interesting or often not fully understood or recognised. It provides a wealth of useful information and resources for health professionals, health and wellbeing boards and local authorities, and explains the operation of laws and potential policies that could enable or place limits on local government and community activity and affect the health of a community.
Key themes covered on the site include access to healthy food, alcohol control, enabling active travel and healthy housing. As part of the latter, they have a dedicated Fuel Poverty and Health Toolkit, which covers a range of resources including:
- Case studies demonstrating the steps communities are already taking to tackle fuel poverty
- Links to national reports and key websites that discuss the causes of fuel poverty and how best to tackle it
- Up-to-date links to information on Government programmes such as ECO, the Winter Fuel Payment Scheme and the Warm Homes Discount.
- National fuel poverty data and useful statistical sources for the UK, alongside further links to research, reports and data related to fuel poverty, cold homes and health
The toolkit also has a range of other useful links, including to resources for vulnerable individuals, energy efficiency information, and home improvement, energy savings and income maximization support. Why not take a look?
The UK Health Forum is an alliance of organisations, public health professionals and academics working to reduce the risk of avoidable, non-communicable disease at a local, national, regional and international level. You can find more information about their work here.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO A TUBE STRIKE – UPDATES ASAP
No more cold homes – the lasting solution
With energy bills spiralling out of control, a fifth of Londoners face an
everyday choice between putting food on the table and turning on the
heating. The Energy Bill Revolution is calling on the Government to back
a lasting solution – improving our homes to make them easier and
cheaper to heat.
Join them in London for an evening of debate and a chance to have your voice heard by MPs from all 3 main political parties.
The Energy Bill Revolution Campaign is the largest fuel poverty alliance ever formed and is made up of over 150 different charities, organisations and businesses. They are campaigning to help people to pay their fuel bills by improving their homes with energy efficiency measures. For more information and flyers please contact Tanya Kenny firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.energybillrevolution.org