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Getting the measure of Fuel Poverty

posted by Dale Hoyland on 19 March 2012

tags: fuel poverty , affordable warmth , Green Deal ,

gas meter key

An independent report has been published this week advising the government how it could best tackle issues surrounding fuel poverty.

This comes as figures are released for 2010 showing that UK carbon emissions rose for the first time in 7 years, probably as a result of very cold winter months. How many of those householders had to make sacrifices elsewhere to be able to afford to heat their home over winter?

We'll never know for sure, but with well over 24,000 excess winter deaths attributed to excess cold across the UK that year, we know that for many, adequate heat wasn't achieved. The latest official fuel poverty figures show 4m households in England in fuel poverty, compared to just 1.2m in 2004.

Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics started his research in March last year looking at the definition of fuel poverty, targets, and the effectiveness of different policy interventions.

An interim report was published a few months ago that set out initial thoughts. Last November, I wrote an article that discussed the current definition of fuel poverty. This week, the final set of recommendations is published, paving the way for a new definition.

  • Professor Hills is clear that fuel poverty is currently measured in a way that is both flawed and unhelpful
  • Professor Hills has proposed a new way to define fuel poverty, separating the extent of the issue (the number of people affected) from its depth (how badly people are affected)
  • Professor Hills also shows how the impact of Government policies can be assessed against this new proposed definition, showing the positive impact current Government policies are having on tackling fuel poverty.

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey, said:

"Fuel poverty is a serious national problem and this government remains committed to doing all it can to tackle it and make sure that the help available reaches those who need it most."

"We were right to commission this independent review because we want to make our policies as effective as possible, and improving fuel poverty measurement is a key part of this. I am grateful to Professor Hills and his team for the quality of their work, we will now study the report in detail ahead of consulting on an alternative definition for fuel poverty in the summer."

Government is already tackling fuel poverty through a range of different schemes. Assistance with heating and insulation measures is currently provided through policies like Warm Front and the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target helping keep homes warmer and cosier through the year. There is also direct support with energy bills for low income and vulnerable households through the Warm Home Discount scheme.

On a local level, working across the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, United Sustainable Energy Agency are helping residents to achieve affordable warmth by operating Affordable Warmth Networks. These provide information on how we can all save on gas and electricity bills, and ‘insulate’ against future price increases from utility providers.

Later this year, the Green Deal Energy Company Obligation will be one of the key policies targeted towards supporting the fuel poor. Government will announce the way forward on the Green Deal and ECO shortly. USEA have a few of our own ideas on the Green Deal, and have been liaising closely with the Department of Energy and Climate Change...

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