Fuel Poverty Presentation
Gordon James, recently retired Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, WELSH FOCUS CONFERENCE April 4, 2012
The director of the charity Age UK has described fuel poverty in the UK as a ‘disgrace’ .
The most recent estimates, by the charity National Energy Action , concluded that there are approximately 7,000,000 households in the UK in fuel poverty, 27% of the total.
In Wales, the total number of fuel poor households in 2011 is estimated to be over 425,000, a staggering third of all households in Wales .
The Welsh Government’s Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES) helped 15,000 households in 2010/11. While this is welcome, it’s just a tiny proportion of the 425,000 households in Wales suffering fuel poverty.
The number of excess winter deaths, resulting from fuel poverty in 2010 to 2011, was, according to the Office for National Statistics, 28,050 for the UK and 1,900 for Wales. That’s about 16% higher than what it would have been in properly heated homes. 
The graph below shows how the situation has been deteriorating since 2004.
Figure 1 – Fuel poverty in the UK, all households and vulnerable, 1996 to 2009
Source: DECC Fuel Poverty Statistics 2011
Roughly twice as many people, per capita, die here than in Scandanavia and other parts of northern Europe, though our winters are typically milder. Even Siberia has lower levels of excess winter deaths than we do. 
Wesley, 5, and Joe, 6, from Blaenau Gwent in Wales sit by an electric heater in winter clothes in their living room. The heater can only be left on for half an hour at a time, as it uses too much electricity
This is a family from Blaenau Gwent featured in a Save the Children report 
This has happened despite the fact that our governments have had a legal commitment to reduce fuel poverty.
The UK Fuel Poverty Strategy was published in 2001 as a requirement of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. Under this legislation, fuel poverty was to be eradicated, as far as reasonably practicable, in the UK.
The Welsh Assembly Government’s A Fuel Poverty Commitment for Wales set, in 2003, statutory targets to eradicate fuel poverty:
• Amongst vulnerable households by 2010.
• In social housing by 2012.
• By 2018, there would be no-one in Wales living in fuel poverty.
Our Governments have not only failed to deliver on this legal requirement they are in rapid retreat.
What exactly do we mean by the term fuel poverty?
Fuel poverty is officially defined as the need to spend over 10% of household income on fuel costs to maintain adequate warmth for heat and comfort. Poor households pay over a billion pounds more for fuel van households with much higher incomes.
Fuel poverty is caused by three factors:
• inadequate heating and insulation
• low incomes
• high costs of energy bills
The people most likely to suffer from fuel poverty are:
• people with children under the age of 16 -there are over 1 million children living in poverty
• people suffering long-term illness and
• people with disabilities
The government defines a healthy living environment as 21° C in living areas and 18° C and other areas of the house; the fuel poor households cannot afford to heat their homes to this standard.
The Welsh Government defines the negative impacts of fuel poverty as follows:
• Increased respiratory illnesses including asthma.
• Increased blood pressure and risk of heart attack and stroke (cardiovascular disease).
• Increased levels of slips, trips and falls, particularly in older people as cold can reduce mobility and cause a worsening in the symptoms of arthritis.
• Stress and mental health issues driven by concerns over bills and/or energy debt.
• Increased pressure and cost on health and care.
• Fuel poverty contributes to excess winter deaths -an average of 27,000 each year over the last decade.
Fuel Poverty impacts on educational achievement where only one room may be properly heated, resulting in the lack of a quiet, warm space to study or increased levels of absenteeism as a result of sickness.
• Fuel Poverty can increase social isolation because of a reluctance to invite friends into a cold, damp home.
• High fuel bills leave householders with less money available for food, other day to day expenses and social activity.
• Fuel poverty impacts negatively on the economy because of increased levels of sickness.
• Tackling fuel poverty and reducing the amount of money spent on energy bills can have positive effects on local regeneration because people have more money to spend in the local economy.
Fuel Poverty and Disability
The 2008 report ‘Disability poverty in the UK’ by Leonard Cheshire Disability  found that disabled people are twice as likely to live in relative low-income as nondisabled people, and that that they faced an additional 25% of unavoidable expenditure.
Disabled people are far less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people and have to spend more time at home with the heating on clocking up higher fuel bills.
The Government’s Fuel Poverty Strategy, in 2001, acknowledged that:
“Fuel poverty may compound the ill health and suffering of those who are disabled or have a long-term illness”.
But despite the fact that disabled people seem to be particularly vulnerable to fuel poverty there has been relatively little policy-making specifically aimed at supporting this group.
In its follow-up report, ‘Fuel Poverty and Disability’ , the organisation stated:
“Disabled people need to be at the very heart of policy-making in this area.”
“without focusing in detail on breaking the links between disability and fuel poverty, it will simply not be possible for the government to achieve its own targets towards ending fuel poverty for all.”
The report recommends, amongst other things, that the government should:
• Ensure that disability benefits are not included as part of ‘household income’ for the purpose of measuring fuel poverty.
• Conduct further research into the extra costs of disability and adopt a standard definition of extra costs that will help to make official figures better reflect the full extent of disability poverty.
• Extend the Winter Fuel Allowance to those in receipt of the middle or higher rate of Disability Living Allowance care component or higher rate mobility component.
• Ensure that people are able to manage their finances by having up-to-date, easily available and accessible information on the distribution of Cold Weather Payments.
• Improve the information available about schemes that disabled people are eligible for that could help alleviate their fuel poverty.
• Establish a disability poverty strategy – including specific proposals to end fuel poverty among disabled people.
One thing we can do to help achieve this is to support Welsh Focus’ e-petition for the Winter Fuel Allowance to be available for the severely impaired population under sixty years of age.
But why should someone like me, who has worked as an environmental campaigner for many years, be interested in fuel poverty?
It’s because tackling fuel poverty reaps environmental, social and economic benefits: it’s one of the best examples of sustainable development in practice that can be found. Improving energy saving in homes:
• cuts fuel bills
• cut carbon dioxide emissions – homes represent 27% of total UK emissions
• improves health and home comforts
• creates jobs and supports local businesses
It’s a win-win-win situation that should get much stronger political support.
That’s why Friends of the Earth, in 1995, took a prominent role in drafting and steering through parliament the Home Energy Conservation Act, and played a similar role with the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act of 2000.
In 2008, Friends of the Earth joined with a broad alliance of NGOs, such as Age Concern and Neighbourhood Energy Action, to support the Fuel Poverty Charter, and joined with Help the Aged to take the Government to the High Court for failing to deliver on fuel poverty. Although this challenge and the subsequent appeal were not successful, it was widely praised for giving higher priority to the issue.
You might have read in newspapers, such as the Daily Express or Daily Mail, that climate change is a myth. I wish. The evidence that human activity is causing climate change is overwhelming. It is supported by world governments, the words leading scientists, leaders of industry at the CBI, military experts at the Pentagon and MOD, health experts such as a BMA, trade unions and farming unions, and so on and so on. And the evidence is becoming all too clear with melting ice, rising sea levels, more extremes of weather, and rising global temperatures.
Fuel Bill Increases
You might have also seen headlines in newspapers, such as the Daily Mail, blaming green taxes for rising fuel prices. This is also untrue. According to the energy regulator OFGEM, environmental and social taxes have added just 7% to fuel bills . The rising cost of gas has been the main problem.
Average gas bills increased by 90 per cent between 2004 and 2010, and gas is responsible for 80% of the rise in fuel bills. As the government has announced a major expansion in gas generated electricity, we can expect further substantial increases in energy bills.
The government has estimated that, by 2020, green energy measures will, on average, lead to a £94 (or 7%) reduction in household energy bills because of improvements in energy efficiency resulting from green policies . This prediction has been challenged but it does illustrate that green policies cut bills and emissions.
The Big Six energy suppliers announced large price increases in 2011. Energy prices rocketed by £224’ or just 21% in just over a year, to an average £1259. As a result of public pressure, the companies have announced price cuts but these will only wipe out 15% of last year’s price hikes .
Funding Mechanisms – All Change
There are a number of funding mechanisms available to help improve energy efficiency and alleviate fuel poverty, and there are additional schemes in Wales. There’s little point considering these in detail here as significant changes are about to take place.
The Coalition Government’s new Energy Act 2011 introduces the Green Deal, due to be launched this autumn, which is intended to bring about a step change in domestic energy efficiency. The primary mechanism to assist disadvantaged households to improve heating and insulation in their homes will be the Energy Company Obligation (ECO).
The schemes promise to treat 3.6 million homes over the next ten years at a total cost of £16.5bn. But, in the words of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, “the aspirations are commendably high. But so too are the risks.”
Over the next decade, investment into the sector in Wales will come from:
• Arbed – to reduce climate change, help eradicate fuel poverty and boost economic development and regeneration in Wales
• Nest – our demand led fuel poverty scheme;
• the Welsh Housing Quality Standard;
• Feed In Tariffs;
• Renewable Heat Incentive;
• Green Deal; and
• energy supplier obligations.
Around £1bn over the next decade is likely to be invested into the energy performance of Welsh homes. The sector is highly labour intensive, creating skilled local jobs for local people.
With predictions that the cost of the world fuel will continue to rise, fuel poverty levels seem likely to increase for a number of years.
One organization, Transform UK, predicts that more than 9 million households could be living in poverty by 2016. It proposes that the £4 billion that the government is expected to raise over the next 15 years from carbon taxes should be spent on eliminating fuel poverty.
Free advice about heating your home is available by calling 0800 512 012 free from a landline or 0300 456 2655 from a mobile phone.
Organisations concerned about fuel poverty should also back the Fuel Poverty Charter for Wales.
This calls for:
• A detailed action plan setting out how and when fuel poverty will be eradicated in Wales
• Support to all fuel poor households to stay warm – until fuel poverty is eradicated
• A co-ordinated and united approach across the statutory sector (at UK and Wales level) that involves partners from the private, voluntary and community sectors in Wales
I hope Welsh Focus will do this.
Picture from the Friends of the Earth fuel poverty campaign.
Eliminating fuel poverty is a win-win situation that benefits people, the environment and the economy. The reason that fuel poverty remains a scandal in the UK is that, unlike in many other European countries, politicians have not given it the priority it deserves. It’s up to us to let them know that this situation, which harms the most vulnerable people in society, is totally unacceptable.
1. Fuel poverty and cold weather: the deaths that shame Britain, Daily Telegraph, November 23, 2011
2. National Energy Action, Press Pack 2012
3. Quoted in National Energy Action, Press Pack 2012
4. George Monbiot quoted in New Statesman, Feeling the Heat, August 5, 2011
6. Disability poverty in the UK’ by Leonard Cheshire Disability
7. ‘Fuel Poverty and Disability’ by Leonard Cheshire Disability
8. OFGEM – ‘Why Are Energy Prices Rising’
9. The Carbon Brief blog – ‘Want to Understand Energy Bills’ 24 November 2011
10. National Energy Action Cymru Annual Conference, Millennium Stadium, 23 February 2012
11. The Environmental Data Services Report 446, March 2012
12. The Energy Bill Revolution – Transform UK