Fuel poverty is caused by a number of factors:
- Low income.
- High energy prices, which are often made worse by higher tariffs for both low-volume users and those not able to pay via direct debit such as pre-payment customers and residents unable to access the cheapest 'online only' deals.
- Poor energy efficiency – for example, inadequate insulation and old or inefficient heating systems.
- Under-occupancy. Quite often, those suffering from fuel poverty live in larger than average homes.
Fuel poverty is most common among vulnerable households:
- Those on low incomes.
- People with children under the age of 16.
- People with disabilities or suffering from a long-term illness.
- Older people.
Fuel poverty in the UK
Fuel poverty is a major issue in the UK. The most recent official Government statistics (based on 2014 data and released in June 2016) estimated the number of households in fuel poverty in England at 2.38 million, which is approximately 10.6% of all English households and represents an increase from 2.35 million in 2013 (a change of around 1.4%). However, levels of fuel poverty are higher in other parts of the UK:
- Northern Ireland: 42% of households.
- Scotland: 35% of households.
- Wales: 30% of households.
Fuel poverty and winter deaths
Rising domestic energy costs cause particular problems for the health and well-being of the elderly. Many older people quite often can’t afford to put their heating on and living in a cold house increases the risk of flu, chest infections and other respiratory problems, all of which can be fatal.
More people die in winter than during other seasons, many due to the effects of the cold. This is the case across Europe but the UK experiences a higher number of deaths than other, colder countries such as Norway and Sweden. These additional deaths are called Excess Winter Deaths. During the Winter of 2014-15, there were an estimated 43,900 Excess Winter Deaths in England and Wales, the highest number since 1999/00.
Who fuel poverty affects
Although fuel poverty is primarily associated with the elderly, it’s also an increasing problem for younger people. There are at least 1.5 million children in the UK living in fuel poverty and it also affects students, many of whom are on tight budgets and live in poor accommodation that’s not energy-efficient. According to the National Union of Students, 78% said they felt uncomfortably cold at home over winter, and 79% said they either turned the heating off or hesitated to use it because they were worried about high fuel bills.
The UK Government has a commitment to tackling fuel poverty. As energy prices continue to rise, it’s vital that it not only implements drastic and effective solutions to help those in fuel poverty but that it does so on a scale that makes a deep and lasting impression on the numbers affected.