Skip to content

Britain’s Lethal Energy Policy: Fuel Poverty ‘Will Claim 2,700 Victims This Winter’

Almost 3,000 people in England and Wales will die this winter because they cannot afford to heat their homes, a report suggests – more than the number killed in traffic accidents each year.

Commissioned by the government, the Hills Fuel Poverty Review found that if just 10% of UK winter deaths are caused by fuel poverty – a conservative estimate it claims – 2,700 people will perish as a direct result of being fuel poor.

The report also found that between 2004 and 2009 the “fuel poverty gap” (the extra amount those with badly insulated homes and poor heating systems would need to spend to keep warm) increased by 50% to £1.1bn as a result of rising fuel prices.

By the end of 2011, 4.1 million households in England are expected to be in fuel poverty. Households are considered fuel poor if they need to spend more than 10% of their income on fuel use to heat a home to an adequate standard of warmth, generally defined as 21C in the living room and 18C in other occupied rooms.

In October 2010, the government announced it would commission an independent review of fuel poverty, investigating how to better define and measure it and tackle the underlying problems that lead to it.

The interim report from the review, written by John Hills, director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, leaves the government in no doubt as to the breadth and depth of the fuel poverty problem engulfing many of the UK’s most vulnerable households.

The report, which backed the current definition of fuel poverty, found that living in cold homes has a series of effects on illness and mental health, but the most serious is its contribution to Britain’s unusually high rates of “excess winter deaths”.

In the report, Hills writes: “There are many contributors to this problem, but even if only a 10th of them are due directly to fuel poverty, that means that 2,700 people in England and Wales are dying each year as a result – more than the number killed in traffic accidents.”

Hills also found that while it is essential that the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock is improved, those on low incomes in the worst housing cannot afford to pay for it and “need assistance from elsewhere”.

He said: “The evidence shows how serious the problem of fuel poverty is, increasing health risks and hardship for millions of people and hampering urgent action to reduce energy waste and carbon emissions.

“This review confirms that the way in which the problem is currently described in law is correct: people are affected by fuel poverty if they are ‘living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at reasonable cost’.”

The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 stated that fuel poverty should be eradicated “as far as reasonably practicable” by 2016, but while fuel poverty in England fell by four-fifths between 1996 and 2004 (from 5.1 million households to 1.2 million households) it has more than trebled since.

Full story