UK fuel poverty to last a lifetime, report says
The Guardian, 29 November 2016
A child born in Britain today may never see fuel poverty eradicated, according to a report backed by the star of I, Daniel Blake –Ken Loach’s critically acclaimed film about the benefits system. The report, published by charity National Energy Action to kick off its Warm Homes Campaign, documents stagnating efforts to solve fuel poverty. The government has pledged to make as many “fuel poor” homes as possible achieve a minimum standard of energy efficiency by 2030, in an attempt to end fuel poverty.
People in 4 million UK households face restricted life chances because they live in a cold, damp property, according to the NEA report.
It warned that that the current rate of progress in tackling the problem means fuel poverty will not have ended by the time a child born today turns 80. The average life expectancy at birth in the UK is 83 years for girls and 79 for boys, according to the Office for National Statistics.
People are defined as fuel poor in England and Wales if the cost of heating their home is high, but meeting this amount would see them fall below the poverty line.
While the number of fuel poor households is lower than it was at the peak of the recession in 2009, it crept up from 2.36 million in 2012 to 2.38 million in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available.
The average fuel poverty gap – between households’ energy bills and what they can afford to pay – has grown in the past decade from £235 in 2003 to £371 in 2014, or £882m at a national level.
The actor Dave Johns, who played the lead character in I, Daniel Blake, said: “It is a complete scandal that people die because they can’t afford to heat their homes.
“I’m backing NEA’s Warm Homes Campaign to highlight what help is available to cope with rising energy bills as winter takes hold, and demand more support from the government.”
NEA cited low levels of energy efficiency in poor-quality housing and difficulty accessing the cheapest energy tariffs, forcing residents to tolerate the cold or spend more on fuel than wealthier people who live in well-insulated homes.
The UK is lagging behind the rest of the world on energy efficiency measures such as insulation, according to NEA.
The Committee on Climate Change recently said the UK has “no action plan” to improve energy efficiency, while the National Audit Office has lamented the lack of investment.
The Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas said: “We know that investing in energy efficiency reduces people’s bills, cuts carbon emissions and keeps people warm, yet the government is slashing support for insulation.
“This approach fails people living in fuel poverty who can’t afford to keep their homes warm and is utterly misguided financially.
“Britain should be leading the way, making energy efficiency and home insulation an overriding infrastructure priority.
“Let’s not get left behind other countries who are now leaving us in their wake as they drastically reduce their energy demand.”
NEA also identified stagnant wage growth, coupled with rising energy bills, as the key factors keeping people mired in fuel poverty.
“We need to see much more ambition from national and local government if we are to end the unnecessary cost and suffering caused by fuel poverty,” said the NEA chief executive, Jenny Saunders.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The government is committed to tackling fuel poverty. The warm home discount will ensure that more than 2 million households will receive £140 off their energy bills this winter.
“The best long-term solution is to improve the energy efficiency of households. We are reforming the requirement on energy companies to install efficiency measures in homes across Great Britain, which will insulate 1m homes by 2020, tackling the root cause of fuel poverty.”
A Labour spokesman said: “As the cold weather hits, many people will be worrying about how they’ll pay their energy bills this winter. It is unacceptable that the big six energy companies are raking in profits while families have to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table.
“Labour have led the way by calling for caps on energy bills while we fix our broken energy market. David Cameron promised parliament 17 times that he would force energy companies, by law, to put all customers on their cheapest tariff, but still the government are doing nothing to help people with energy costs. Once again, we have seen that we can’t trust the Tories to stand up for ordinary people.”