The latest annual report from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) covers the year 2011 – many energy price hikes and policy changes ago. The headline is that in England, the numbers of households in fuel poverty fell, from 3.3m in 2010 to 3.2m (and in the UK from 4.75m to 4.5m). These are the households which need to spend 10% or more of their income on energy to keep adequately warm, a definition we have all become accustomed to using. But DECC’s report has turned into a statistical soup, as it struggles to introduce a new definition of fuel poverty (which measures two different things), and reports anyway on a year long forgotten.
For what it’s worth, 2011 was mild (for both the winter months at the beginning and end), and this led to a fall in national domestic energy consumption. It was also the last year when the (now abolished) Warm Front programme was operating at full speed – the tax-funded grant programme targeted on low income households – so energy efficiency improvements were driving forward alongside the schemes offered by the energy supply companies to save energy.
2011 also saw the introduction of the Warm Home Discount, which swept away the maze of social tariffs, offered by the energy companies, and replaced them with a system which, for pensioner householders in receipt of Pension Credit, gave them an automatic reduction of £120 in their annual electricity bill. So there were a number of things going well, which contribute to the lustre of these headlines.
Fuel poverty geeks will have a field day with this data – you can’t fault the Government for covering up information. Using the 10% definition, the numbers of older people in fuel poverty in 2003 and 2011 were:
|Couples aged 60+||140,000||460,000|
|One person 60+||600,000||910,000|
Subsequent price increases will have pushed these numbers up, and applying the likely new definition, these numbers might be massaged downwards, but the numbers of older people caught in fuel poverty will still be substantial.
What are the prospects? The Green Deal, and the Energy Company Obligation, has been heralded as the way forward, and in truth it is the only show in town, but it is far too early to judge its impact. It still feels that without a major commitment to invest in retrofitting our housing stock, we shall continue to see fuel poverty figures at an unacceptable level, with all the associated human misery – and on-going costs to our health and care services.
Age UK has joined the Energy Bill Revolution, an alliance of over one hundred organisations. Together we are calling on the Government to use our carbon taxes to super-insulate our homes. Please will you add your voice to the Energy Bill Revolution petition today