Fuel Poverty – Why does it still exist in Britain in the 21st century?

By Maria Wardrobe, Communications Director, National Energy Action

By rights I shouldn’t be here. My job as Communications Director for national fuel poverty charity NEA should have been done by now, to be precise we should have tackled the problem of fuel poverty by 2016. But we haven’t! There are around 4 million UK households that can testify to that, they are experiencing the impacts of living in a cold and damp home every day, and the impacts are particularly serious with the current cold and wet weather.

In my defence I should point out that it isn’t actually my fault, or the fault of the thousands of individuals who work tirelessly with a view to ending fuel poverty. So whose fault is it? I think it is the fault of successive governments, over several decades who have failed to prioritise improving the energy efficiency of our homes. They have produced many sticking plasters of varying sizes. We have had some very promising schemes that have made vast improvements but there has been no vision, no effective transition and no long-term investment to tackle the leaky homes many of our citizens continue to live in. See our UK Fuel Poverty Monitor.

Not £1 of public money is going to be spent on improving energy efficiency in England. It is the only nation without a government-funded energy efficiency programme for the first time in over 30 years. This is despite domestic energy consumers contributing an estimated £14 billion to the Treasury this Parliament, £30 billion over 10 years. Reversing this amongst other recent trends would help improve the quality of life for those living in the UK.

As we are highlighting in Fuel Poverty Awareness Day today (17th February) at the current rate of resourcing and delivery we will not see an end to the cold home crisis in the lifetime of a baby girl born today.

Without urgent action she could suffer a number of significant health problems as she grows up. A baby born today and living in cold housing is more than twice as likely to suffer from breathing problems including asthma and bronchitis, and three times as likely to suffer from wheezing and respiratory illness. She is also at greater risk of mental health issues and – in later life – arthritis and falls in the home. Last year, over 8,000 winter deaths were attributable to cold homes.

This saddens me so much as it is avoidable and preventable. Energy efficiency is the gift that just keeps on giving, providing warmth year on year. Our key ask of this government is to prioritise spending on domestic energy efficiency and bring all UK homes up to a minimum energy efficiency standard of EPC Band C.

It is also really sad that I know that NEA’s vision that ‘no one is living in fuel poverty’ will not be realised before I throw off this mortal coil! I do know that this won’t deter myself and my colleagues at NEA who will keep on trying to get our message across and try to bring an end to the cold homes crisis.


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