Fuel poverty continues to affect millions
Published on 17 May 2013 12:30 PM
The fuel poverty gap is widening, although the total number of people in fuel poverty has fallen, according to Government figures.
There were 4.5 million people in fuel poverty in 2011, a 250,000 drop on 2010 levels. But the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) also found that the gap went up over the same period, with fuel poverty defined as a household spending more than 10% of its income on fuel.
Anyone in this bracket would need on average £448 more every year in order to properly heat their homes, £26 up on the previous year. The DECC claims this is due to a rise in energy bills, but said the total number of people in fuel poverty dropped as a result of household incomes increasing.
The separate Low Income High Cost (LIHC) measure of fuel poverty would have shown a more modest fall in numbers. Using this calculation, there would have been 100,000 fewer people in fuel poverty over 2011 when compared with the previous year.
Fuel poverty remains 'stubbornly high'
Age UK's charity director general Michelle Mitchell said the latest figures show that the number of homes struggling to pay fuel bills remains 'stubbornly high', adding that it was unacceptable that 4.5 million UK homes - 3.2 million in England alone - were in fuel poverty, particularly those with older people who are more vulnerable to low temperatures.
Although the Government's Warm Homes Discount for people on pension credit has helped the situation, she said that this was clearly 'not enough'.
'Behind today's statistics lie many stories of real human suffering as people face the misery of not being able to afford to keep adequately warm,' she said.
'Cold homes pose a serious risk to people's health, increasing costs to health and care services to treat worsened cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, and contribute to the high numbers of older people we see dying over the cold winter months in the UK.'
Ms Mitchell pointed out that energy prices have doubled since 2005, with the Government's strategy to tackle fuel poverty failing to keep pace. She argues that the solution lays in making homes more energy efficient to maximise the benefits of the fuel burned.
However, England's only tax-funded fuel poverty programme has been wound up, with the Green Deal in 'unknown territory'. She added: 'We now have a new tax on carbon emissions which is ultimately paid for by all energy consumers: it is high time the Government recycled the revenue that it raises into a vigorous home improvement programme to help households in fuel poverty save energy and keep warm.'
Copyright Press Association 2013