Fuel poverty has featured as a national issue in the UK all throughout our country’s history — you need only to pick up a book from any one of our past literary greats to see a similar story pouring from the pages. And albeit the mass levels of the energy poor depicted by the likes of Charles Dickens are fortunately behind us, it is unfathomable that in today’s day and age people are still losing their lives because they cannot afford to heat their homes.
Last week saw the kick-off of the Energy Bill Revolution’s Cold Homes Week campaign which looked to raise awareness around the seriousness of fuel poverty in the UK and to get the much needed support of politicians to make homes more energy efficient. To date, the Energy Bill Revolution is the biggest ever public campaign targeted at ending fuel poverty. It includes an alliance of 170 major charities, businesses and unions.
The worrying stats
The Energy Bill Revolution has put a stake in the ground for 2014 and beyond. Alongside the heated debate the campaign has generated, a landslide of industry stats highlight the desperate need for action:
• Five million households across the UK were classed as being in fuel poverty last month, an increase of 11.7 per cent since January last year.
• 523,000 more households were plunged into fuel poverty this January compared to the same time last year, meaning one in four (24 per cent) homes in Britain now struggle with their heating bills.
• A uSwitch study found that almost three quarters of households have gone without heating at some point this winter to cope with the increasing costs of energy.
With the continuing rise of energy prices this worrying trend is only going to become more acute, so what needs to be done?
The increasing importance of energy efficiency
Research from The Rexel Foundation found that 92 per cent of UK respondents feel that more people will be unable to pay their bills and fall into fuel poverty if nothing is done urgently to improve energy efficiency.
Interestingly, the European Commission published a report in January which highlighted that UK domestic gas and electricity end prices are the least expensive and fifth least expensive respectively in the EU15.
However, despite relatively low energy prices energy bills in the UK tend to be much higher due to (1) the extremely poor energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock and (2) the high amount of energy that is consumed per capita. Despite paying less per unit of energy than, say, Sweden, UK households end up paying more overall because of this inefficiency across the board. The Green Alliance claims that more than one in three UK homes fall into the worst performing E, F and G Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) bands.
It is no great secret that the only permanent and effective solution to fuel poverty long term is to make all UK homes much more energy efficient – making them so easy and inexpensive for the homeowner to heat that they effectively become fuel poverty proof.
The campaign and goals of the Energy Bill Revolution are a huge step in the right direction. Rexel’s own Foundation was founded with the strong conviction in the need to increase energy efficiency for all. Energy efficiency solutions and programmes are going to play a huge part in our energy future, however, it is important to acknowledge that the ball is not just in the government’s court on this. The whole industry has a role to play in raising awareness and educating consumers of the energy-saving solutions available that will ultimately help combat fuel poverty in the UK.