A new fuel poverty strategy

A thermal image of a house

The fuel poverty strategy of 2001 (‘to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016’) has patently failed. A new one is promised in the current Energy Bill, which is completing its Parliamentary stages.

Within six months of the date of the Act receiving Royal Assent (in December or January), the Government is bound to propose a new strategy, after which there will be a public consultation, a Government response, and the tabling of the necessary secondary legislation. This ponderous process means we might not have a new strategy in place till early 2015 (though ministers hope to move faster), but clearly the thinking time has already started.

Age UK, with others, is in constant conversation with the Department of Energy & Climate Change. A key bone of contention is the targets to be set in the strategy, since these will only be real if there is funding to underpin them, and there is considerable uncertainty about the available funds. Continue reading “A new fuel poverty strategy”

What on earth are carbon taxes?

Energy is a huge political and household issue. The dual fuel bill for an average household is £1315 per year, and that’s before the current round of price increases.

What we’ve learned this week is that Secretary of State Ed Davey wears a jumper to keep warm at home, and that British Gas is increasing its prices by 9.2%. We also learned from the Scottish Nationalists that if Scotland voted for independence and if they were to be in Government, they would cut prices by removing the social and environmental obligations on energy suppliers, and instead pay for fuel poverty programmes with the proceeds from carbon taxes.200x160_gas_hob_g_main

These carbon taxes come in two forms, and are levied on the industries emitting the largest amount of greenhouse gasses, principally carbon dioxide. The idea is to push these industries into using non-polluting energy – energy generated from wind and tides and other renewables, and from nuclear sources. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme is one of the carbon taxes and applies to all members of the EU, though the revenues go to the national governments.   Continue reading “What on earth are carbon taxes?”

Green Deal performance data

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, is440x210_handyvan1 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”

Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives

It may be measured in baby steps, but at last the Department of Health (DH) is acknowledging the importance of cold homes, and living in fuel poverty, to the health debate.

Age UK’s lobbying and campaigning on fuel poverty issues is strongly grounded on the health implications – the ill-health arising from not keeping adequately warm, measured both in terms of human suffering and costs to the NHS – so this engagement by the DH is a significant advance.  Two short reports from Age UK have looked at recent public health initiatives to assess their impact.

aOne is concerned with the Warm Homes Healthy People programme.  This was announced as a ‘one-off’ in 2011, then repeated in 2012.

It was a £20m prize pot to which local authorities were invited to bid, provided their proposals were to address ‘winter pressures’, and provided they were doing so in partnership with the local voluntary and community groups.

It stimulated a remarkable range of varied activities, from clearing snow and going shopping in adverse weather, to providing hot meals and issuing ‘winter survival packs’, to checking electric blankets and checking benefit entitlements.

It drove a wave of local, community activity, and local Age UK partners were substantially involved. This report looks at their experience of the project, and it is overwhelmingly supportive. Continue reading “Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives”

Fuel poverty statistics

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.

200x160_gas_hob_g_mainFor 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”

Rural Fuel Poverty – forgotten but not gone?

This blog was contributed by David Terrace, Energy Programme Manager, at Age UK. 

One cannot escape from the scrutiny on fuel poverty this winter, and rightly so, it’s an epidemic. However, one element of fuel poverty that is often ignored is the plight of those in rural, off-mains gas areas. For Age UK, this is particularly important as there is twice the percentage of retired people in rural areas than urban, and there are around 1.5million older people living off the gas grid.

So what we are doing about? During the cold winter we highlighted the issues Elderly woman trying to keep warm by the firesidethat are facing older, isolated people in rural areas. Age UK achieved this through considerable press coverage with articles appearing in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. This raised awareness of older people in terrible housing stock, paying a great deal more for their heating but not receiving the help that they need.

There was more to do than just talk about it, it needed tangible action. The spark was provided by the Department of Energy and Climate change announcing its Cheaper Energy Together fund in November. We knew we had to the opportunity to ‘show not tell’ on rural fuel poverty, albeit with a very short timescale (start in January, finish before Easter!) Continue reading “Rural Fuel Poverty – forgotten but not gone?”

Budget 2013: did the Chancellor deliver for older people?

Following statements from the Chancellor prior to the budget, it seemed that older people were due to benefit from significant changes to the future funding structures of social care and pensions. However, following the Chancellor’s statement there is little new to celebrate.

The main point of interest for pensioners was confirmation that the implementation of the cap on social care costs (the ‘Dilnot’ reforms) and the introduction of the single-tier state pension will both be brought forward to 2016-17. From April 2016, there will be a cap of £72,000 on the costs of care, and the upper threshold limit for the residential care means test will be increased to £118,000.

440x210_pound-coinsWhilst we welcome the earlier implementation of the care costs cap and the higher upper means test threshold from April 2016, this will do nothing to help the 800,000 older people who need help with everyday tasks but receive no formal state support. Since 2010/11, in real terms £700 million has been cut from local authority spending on social care. Although the Government has provided additional investment for social care over the course of this parliament, it has not been enough to halt the downwards spiral in care funding. As a result, 85 per cent of local authorities now provide care only to people with substantial or critical needs.
Continue reading “Budget 2013: did the Chancellor deliver for older people?”