The long-promised fuel poverty strategy for England

A woman living in fuel povertyAt last, the Government has produced the fuel poverty strategy paper it promised in December. It falls rather short of what we hoped for.

Last month, Age UK published its preferred strategy to address fuel poverty. Our central call was for a target to be set which would address the houses which are least energy efficient and so the most expensive to heat – and which, as it happens, are the homes of two thirds of the people in fuel poverty.

In a minimalist way, we have got that: the strategy the Government has produced is on the right track but it sets itself targets which are the opposite of ambitious. Using the Energy Performance Certificate measure, it proposes that by 2020, all fuel-poor households should be brought up to a Band E level, to Band D by 2025, and to Band C by 2030.

MILLIONS STILL IN FUEL POVERTY

Since Band B is the level generally suggested as the benchmark to keep adequately warm at an affordable cost, this rate of progress will leave millions of households in fuel poverty for some decades.

We also called for a major refurbishment programme. The current support programmes (the supplier-funded Energy Company Obligation and the Green Deal) are not moving at pace, and we argued for a significant infrastructure project, justified on the grounds that it saved money in other areas, created jobs, and aligned with our climate change objectives.

But we have no sign of that. There is no new money and the timetable, as described, has no sense of urgency.

To achieve success the strategy needs driving at a local level – area-by-area and street-by-street. Local authorities, we believe, should be funded and empowered to take a leadership role.

an ACTION PLAN is NEEDED

The document is full of case histories and discussion about where good things are happening, with some local authorities involved in community energy schemes or the Green Deal Communities scheme, but there is no injunction or incentive for mainstreaming these activities.

Similarly the scope for public health and primary health care teams to get involved gets an airing – this was an important plank in Age UK’s proposal – but again there is no action plan to drive this forward.

This does not feel like a strategy for action. It is studded with insights from research, learning from one-off initiatives, and models of good practice. But it is not proposing any substantial policy change, and seems to be satisfied that the architecture we already have in place, with a few tweaks, will be fit for purpose going forward.

A million older people living in fuel poverty might beg to differ.

The consultation on proposals for a new fuel poverty strategy for England will be open for consultation until 7 October 2014.

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