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Fuel poverty forces vulnerable people to choose between eating or heating

3 min read

The effects of fuel poverty are extremely damaging to young children who are often left living in mouldy and damp homes, says Paul Scully MP.

Too many vulnerable people in the UK, including children and the elderly, make difficult choices as to whether to eat or heat each day.

Around 2.4m households in England are in fuel poverty. The North East has the highest proportion of households. But there are also many hidden localised cases. My constituency, Sutton & Cheam is a relatively prosperous area. It has pockets of deprivation that can be overlooked, likely to include older people on a small fixed income living in a large house for example.

Age UK calculates that over the last 60 years there have been 2.5 million avoidable deaths among older people in England and Wales due to winter cold. They estimate that each winter, one older person dies every seven minutes from the cold weather.

Energy prices remain stubbornly high. Oil prices have doubled from their 2016 low point. The best way to keep prices low is to switch more, but that is easier said than done. Although the number of people switching rose by 30% last year, around two-thirds of customers are still on the worst-value standard tariffs.

Early smart meters worked whilst the customer was with the original supplier who installed the meter but often became obsolete when switching supplier. New SMETS2 meters are meant to solve this problem but rollout is being delayed.

Households struggling with bills are eligible for insulation measures, including solid wall insulation, through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme. The ECO Affordable Warmth scheme offers some support towards heating improvements.

Over two million energy efficiency measures have been installed in over 1.6 million homes since 2013. The Warm Home Discount scheme continues, helping more than 2 million households a year with £140 to go towards their energy bills.

The Government retains the goal of insulating a million more homes by 2020. However the Committee on Fuel Poverty which advises the government on this matter raised serious doubts in September 2016 that the 2020 and 2025 fuel poverty energy efficiency milestones could be achieved.

They believe that over time the £2.1 billion per year spent on the Warm Home Discount and Winter Fuel Payment needs to be better targeted at those most in need of assistance.

A Sutton-based energy consultancy, MaximEyes has started an initiative as part of their CSR which they call ‘Fuel The Change’. They aim to take 1,000 homes out of fuel poverty by 2020 as their business develops. The construction industry and related businesses can play their part in retrofitting as well as raising the bar for new build homes.

MPs see a lot of casework about constituents living in poor housing. Beyond the impacts on the frail and elderly, children living in damp and mouldy homes are particularly at risk; almost three times as likely to suffer from coughing, wheezing and respiratory illness.

Government takes this matter seriously but there is much more that can be done to tackle low pay, energy loss and high fuel prices, the three main causes of fuel poverty.

Paul Scully MP is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Sutton and Cheam.

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