Understanding Fuel Poverty

Tony Thapar from the Moseley Community Development Trust returns to the Fairbrum blog to share his thoughts on Fuel Poverty…

I last contributed to this site back in April when I tried to raise awareness about the urgent and growing problem of Fuel Poverty. Since then, some of us involved in the delivery of the “Stay Warm Stay Well” project have met with key stakeholders and there seems to be support for the idea of an Affordable Warmth Partnership if we are to avoid an increase in winter deaths, poor health, poor housing and increasing Carbon Dioxide emissions.

More recently Professor John Hills (from the LSE and an advisor to Government on Fuel Poverty – DEEC Fuel Poverty review) made a presentation to a small group in Moseley to help us understand depth of the problem in the UK. He quickly highlighted the three issues that overlap and influence Fuel Poverty: Poverty, Health and Carbon.  Also, how the increase in fuel poverty has followed the increase in fuel costs.

The other important factor Prof. Hills raised, was how to measure the problem. I’ve struggled for a while now to find definitive statistics about Fuel Poverty for Birmingham. The current measure for Fuel Poverty is to ask if somebody is spending more than 10% of their income on their fuel bills. Prof Hills has concerns over this approach, since it can include households that are not considered poor and doesn’t express the extent and depth of the problem. Therefore, he has developed an alternative way to measure the problem, designed to identify those most at risk and where resources should be directed. It takes in to consideration the low incomes of families and the high cost of fuel. Using this measure, it’s clear that the problem of Fuel Poverty is urgent and widespread. The Government has forecast that 3.9 million households will be in fuel poverty in 2012 and the Minister responsible agrees “fuel poverty is a serious national problem”.

What was missing from Prof. Hill’s presentation? –  the key decision makers in the City, they were not there to hear what he had to say. We need our Politicians, Department Heads from Housing, Health, Social Care, Environment to combine their resources and data to tackle fuel poverty.

At the same meeting we heard from colleagues in Birmingham City Council about the impact of the “Stay Warm Stay Well” project and how over 1400 households had been helped in just over 3 months. The project had demonstrated the value and success of a joined up approach that included the third sector.

I feel, that there is an urgent need for Birmingham to use Prof. Hill’s methodology to better understand the scale of Fuel Poverty in the City and to ensure that any remedies put in place are targeted at the most in need. We also need to know if we’re making a difference and that should be one of the roles of a future Affordable Warmth Partnership.

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1 Comment

  1. ‘The current measure for Fuel Poverty is to ask if somebody is spending more than 10% of their income on their fuel bills.’.. No it’s not – this is a common misunderstanding of the current definition.
    The current measure isn’t about what they currently spend, it’s about what they would need to spend to achieve healthy temperatures in their home. This is usually a lot more than they actually spend.

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