Rising Uk Energy Prices Compound Fuel Poverty Problems
More and more British households are spending a higher percentage of their income on energy costs. According to Tony Lodge of the Bow Group, research shows that the number of households categorised as being in fuel poverty is expected to have almost doubled in the past four years, up from 2 million to over 4 million. Then there is severe fuel poverty, which refers to spending more than 15% of total household income on fuel.
Using the UK Government’s own fuel poverty criteria and set against recent energy price rises it can be calculated that an extra 2 million households have become victims of fuel poverty over this period.
Last winter, more than 25,000 people over the age of 65 died as a result of cold related illnesses. This was way in excess of other European countries with more severe climates than Britain. 22% of older people living in fuel poverty have gone without gas or electricity in order to make ends meet.
After the 2005 series of energy price rises had hit British households, Energywatch said: “With no immediate end in sight to energy price rises the effect will be increased levels of debt, fuel poverty and the possibility of disconnection.”
So with the latest round of gas and electricity increases, fuel poverty becomes an even more crucial problem and challenge, particularly for the elderly and low paid. It is estimated that approximately half of people in fuel poverty are of pensionable age and that considerably more than half of vulnerable households in are pensioner households.
AT GREATER RISK
Fuel poverty amongst older people is a particularly serious problem not only because they are at greater risk from the cold, but also because they are more likely to spend time within their home. In fact, households containing people aged 65 and over spend more than 80% of their time at home, whilst this figure rises to over 90% for those aged 85 and more.
Help the Aged estimate that between 20,000 and 50,000 people die each winter because their homes are cold. For this reason alone, the urgency of tackling fuel poverty deserves a high priority from Government.
Indeed, the Government was officially committed to ending fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010. However, it is increasingly accepted that this target will not be met and it seems highly unlikely that the Government’s other target of eradicating all fuel poverty in the UK by 2016-18 also will not be achieved!
Energy policy and fuel poverty are intrinsically linked. A balanced energy policy which should include new nuclear power stations, clean coal stations alongside gas and some renewable capacity can play a key role is stabilising electricity costs.
Through this route strategies aimed at reducing fuel poverty can function in the knowledge that a large area of fuel cost – electricity – will be far less volatile than, say, in the recent past. Other strategies boost support for better home design and insulation to improve heat conservation while other energy efficiency measures for households are sadly lacking.
An energy policy that strives to reduce energy costs is available. It represents a strategy which can significantly reduce fuel poverty and provide a better degree of certainty for the energy generators and customers alike.
Meanwhile the Government risks placing Britain at the mercy of being over-dependent on gas for its electricity generation and all of the implications this represents on grounds of higher bills and the inevitable social problems that would inevitably follow.