English low-income earners, paying energy costs above the typical level, faced a total of £1.1 billion more in heating costs than middle or high-income earners in 2009, according to a new fuel poverty report.
The independent review by Professor John Hills used a new way of measuring fuel poverty, taking into account the number of people affected and the severity of the issue.
It found that almost 8 million English people in 2.7 million households were on a low income while facing high energy costs three years ago - an increase of 75% compared to back in 2003.
The review also predicted that the fuel poverty gap will rise to £1.7 billion by 2016, which means low-income earners will have to spend almost £600 more on energy costs per year than wealthier households with typical costs.
Professor Hills said: 'There is no doubt that fuel poverty is a serious national problem - increasing hardship, contributing to winter deaths and other health problems, and blocking policies to combat climate change. But the official measure has fed complacency at times and gloom about the impact of policies at others.
'When one focuses on the core of the problem in the way I propose, the outlook is profoundly disappointing, with the scale of the problem heading to be nearly three times higher in 2016 - the date legislation set for its elimination - than in 2003.
'But this daunting problem is one with solutions. Our analysis shows that improving the housing of those at risk is the most cost-effective way of tackling the problem, cutting energy waste, with large long-term benefits to society as a whole. We need a renewed and ambitious strategy to do this.'
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK said: 'Over the last decade the Labour and then Coalition governments have been fighting a losing the battle against fuel poverty. The Hills review states that the fuel poverty gap will rise by a further half to £1.7 billion by 2016 and the interventions currently planned will only reduce the problem by a tenth. The figures quite frankly do not add up and we fully support Hills’ call for an immediate, revised and ambitious strategy to deal with fuel poverty.
'Age UK fears that the current proposals to improve energy efficiency through the Green Deal and Energy Obligation Schemes are a woefully inadequate response to one of the most serious issues facing our country today. Hills’ analysis provides all the evidence needed and the Government must make a major investment to improve housing stock. We want to see fuel poor households prioritised in this programme.'
'The number of households in fuel poverty increased to five million by the end of 2011 with nearly a quarter of those households including an older person. Even more shocking is the fact that there are 200 excess winter deaths a day due to our society’s inability to cope with the effects of cold weather.'
Copyright Press Association 2012
1 in 4 UK pensioners are living in fuel poverty
In the following short film produced for Sport Relief, two older people talk about the harsh reality of living in fuel poverty: