Vision and ambition needed to tackle fuel poverty
Published on 12 June 2014 10:30 AM
Renewed vision and ambition is desperately needed to tackle the scourge of fuel poverty, says Age UK.
Despite a slight fall in the number of fuel-poor, older households in England in 2012, the Government's annual fuel poverty report released today projects that levels of fuel poverty are once again set to rise.
In its new report, also launched today, Age UK explains how rising energy prices, leaky and energy inefficient homes and low incomes have resulted in the calamitous situation that nearly a million older people find themselves in today.
Age UK's Reducing fuel poverty - a scourge for older people (PDF 850 KB) report calls on the Government to urgently tackle the nation's problem of fuel poverty by driving forward a massive energy efficiency programme.
It says the only viable long-term solution for fuel poverty is to make people's homes as energy efficient as possible so they can keep adequately warm at an affordable cost.
Over 2m homes living in fuel poverty
More than 2.28m households in England were living in fuel poverty, and cold homes made a major contribution to the 31,000 ‘excess winter deaths' in England last winter.
Not surprisingly, older people make up a large proportion of the fuel poor. An estimated 1.2m older people endure misery, hardship, anxiety, ill health and - in the worst cases - death, due to not being able to heat their homes adequately.
Worryingly, the problem has grown in recent years. New schemes such as ECO and the Green Deal have been widely criticised and, above all, they are insufficiently ambitious to tackle the fuel poverty crisis we face.
The Government is yet to publish its national fuel poverty strategy for England, promised in the Energy Act, though it is expected soon.
Age UK is calling for the Government's anticipated fuel poverty strategy to include:
- targets to make all homes ‘fuel poverty proof' - improving homes to a modern standard of energy efficiency, making them affordable to keep adequately warm
- whole-house improvements - not just offering the single most energy efficient measure but doing more if this is needed to make a house affordable to heat
- area-based, locally driven programmes - these are more cost effective to deliver than ‘scatter-gun approaches'
- serious involvement from the NHS, recognising fuel poverty as a driver of ill health
- steps to tackle fuel poverty in rural areas as well as urban ones - fuel poverty is particularly prevalent in rural areas due to the high number of stone-built, solid wall properties and households who are off-mains gas.
Cold homes lead to huge cost in NHS
In the charity's new report, Age UK also emphasises the importance of health outcomes being at the heart of any new fuel poverty strategy and programme. The health implications of living in cold homes are well established, ranging from cardiovascular and respiratory disease to depression, at an estimated cost to the NHS of £1.36bn a year.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director for Age UK, said: 'Unfortunately, today's statistics show that fuel poverty is still a huge problem.
'As an older people's charity we are particularly worried about the plight of nearly a million pensioners who can't afford to heat their homes properly, but they aren't alone - fuel poverty impacts on other households too, including families with children.
'In the long-term, the only sensible solution to fuel poverty is an ambitious energy efficiency programme to bring all our housing up to standard.
'Income subsidies play a crucial role at present in supporting older people to stay warm but we'd much rather live in a world in which they weren't necessary: a successful energy efficiency programme could deliver this and help us to protect the environment too.
'There's no denying it would be a major investment but it deserves a place in our national infrastructure plan: it would create jobs and growth and be a wonderful gift to future generations, as well as benefiting older people today.
'No older person should worry that they could die from the cold in their own home.
'Fuel poverty has harmed our population, older people especially, for far too long. We want a permanent solution and we believe it is within our grasp, if there is the necessary imagination and political will.'
Tell your MP we need warm homes
Through its warm homes campaign - part of the charity's annual Spread the Warmth Campaign - and in collaboration with the Energy Bill Revolution coalition, Age UK is calling on the Government to invest in a bigger, more ambitious programme to improve the energy efficiency of homes across the UK.
Such an infrastructure programme could lift 9 out of 10 homes out of fuel poverty as well as greatly reducing people's bills. The UK has the worst insulated housing stock in Europe and a shameful record on fuel poverty - more than a million older people can't afford to heat their homes adequately and many millions more are struggling to pay their energy bills.
The charity is also urging people to add their voice to its warm homes campaign by visiting its warm homes site or calling 0800 028 5535.