Ahead of publishing the June Green Deal statistics, which the Department obviously knew were woefully disappointing, it went into overdrive to set out positive aspects of the scheme. It published data showing that energy efficient housing commanded a premium price over unimproved homes. It released opinion survey data reporting rising awareness and rising interest in the Green Deal. But the tangible performance record is desperately poor. Age UK is not finger-pointing and dancing for joy: the Green Deal and associated ECO (Energy Company Obligation) is the only show currently in town, and thus in the drive to address fuel poverty, and it needs to work – dramatically.
The ECO part, where energy companies install free or subsidised measures, is the closest we get to a silver lining. There were nearly 82,000 measures installed in the four months to April. The percentage of these going to low income households (those qualifying for the Affordable Warmth or Carbon Saving Communities) was nearly 70% (or about 170,000 per year if aggregated upwards), and most of the measures were loft insulation (56%), hard-to-treat cavity wall insulation (33%) and replacement boilers (10%). This installation performance suggests that households were not getting the comprehensive makeover which would make them ‘fuel-poverty-proof’, and barely dents the fuel poverty headcount of about 6m households in the UK. Continue reading “Green Deal performance data”
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.
Continue reading “Fuel poverty statistics”
The idea that a household is in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10% of its income to keep adequately warm – the traditional definition of fuel poverty – is flawed. The 10% just happened to be twice the average household spending in the 1990s. Calculating a number based on this definition is a statistical exercise: it is not based on actual household experience. Consequently it has been difficult to accurately target programmes to assist the fuel poor, and these programmes have had to rely on imperfect proxy benefits designed for other purposes.
That is the rationale behind John Hills’ quest in his magisterial review of fuel poverty for a new definition. He proposes instead to bring together data which matches low incomes with high energy costs, and supplement that with a new indicator measuring the ‘fuel poverty gap’ – the spending required by households with high costs compared to the median household. The first gives a picture of fuel poverty: the second shows the extent, the depth, of that fuel poverty.
The net result reduces the numbers in fuel poverty but by only a little, and the average depth of fuel poverty in 2009 stood at £414 per household. Together, as Hills also comments, these paint a picture of a very serious problem, and it is still growing. Analysing the impact of policies which will be in place through to 2016, there will be between 2.6 and 3 million households in fuel poverty (affecting over 8m individuals), and the fuel poverty gap will be £600.
Will the new measure help to target fuel poverty programmes better? It is possible to identify low income households, but adding high costs will inevitably mean using proxies, such as having oil or solid fuel heating, having solid walls, living in a rural area off the gas grid, or in a pre-1945 house. But Hills has given us a better picture of what sort of household to look for in what kind of property.
There is little comfort for the Government from all this impressive analysis. Fuel poverty remains a big and growing problem, affecting health, poverty, communities and climate change. There has to be a more robust policy response than the weird comment from DECC that Hills is ‘showing the positive impact of current Government policies are having on tackling fuel poverty’. They are having the kind of impact a fire extinguisher has on a forest fire.
Age UK is campaigning to reduce the number of excess winter deaths. Find out more about our Spread the Warmth campaign.
Read the Hills Fuel Poverty Review final report