Fuel poverty to cause 2,700 deaths in the UK this winter

An interim report into fuel poverty has revealed that at least 2,700 people are at risk of death this winter as they struggle to cope with rising fuel prices.

The Hills Fuel Poverty Review, unveiled yesterday (October 19), was commissioned by the energy secretary Chris Huhne to provide insight into the extent of ‘fuel poverty’ in the UK. This is in light of recent price hikes by major energy suppliers, and following a particularly cold 2010.

Written by London School for Economics (LSE) professor John Hills, the report seeks to answer key questions surrounding fuel poverty including; how it is best measured, and does the current approach to doing this capture the problem most effectively, with the aim of implementing polices that first reduce and then eliminate fuel poverty.

According to the interim review, the total fuel poverty gap, the extra amount poorly insulated households would need to spend to keep warm, rose between 2004 and 2009 by £1.1bn as a direct result of rising fuel prices. Households are considered poor if they spend more than 10% of their income on fuel to heat their home to an adequate level.

Mr Hills said the report clearly indicates that, “however we define fuel poverty or formulate remedial policies that the scale of the problem is vast”.

He added: “The evidence we have examined and presented confirms that fuel poverty is a distinct and serious problem. It deserves and requires attention, as recognised by Parliament when it adopted the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000.”

The report shows that in 2009 around 4 million households in England were living in fuel poverty, with a projected rise to 4.1 million by the end of 2011.

It also found that energy suppliers are not always providing customers with the best contract deal, pushing many into further poverty.

In the report, Mr Hills writes: “The current market in energy contracts does not necessarily serve those on low incomes well. It is disturbing that Ofgem has found that almost as many of those on pre-payment meters who switched suppliers as a result of doorstep sales did so to a more expensive contract than the one they had before as switched to a cheaper one.”

Commenting on the results of the interim report, All Party Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency Groups’ co-chair and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, said: “This report is yet more proof that low-income households are being completely ripped off on their energy bills.

“If the Government is to deliver social justice alongside policies to facilitate the shift to a low carbon future, it desperately needs to wake up to the need for radical improvements in the UK’s housing standards – and not ask poorer consumers to pay for it through their energy bills.”

The review concluded that while the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock must be improved, that a national policy to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption is likely to put pressure on households already in, or at risk of fuel poverty. To counter this, Mr Hills said it essential that low-income households are given support to make their homes more energy efficient.

The final report will be submitted by the end of January 2012.

Carys Matthews

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