by Ryan Carter
The plight of fuel poverty in Britain today is shocking Last month I went to a crowded Attlee suite (one of many suites in Portcullis house which is attached to the Palace of Westminster, London), it was for the launch of the: Affordable warmth manifesto. The manifesto sets out 6 points and was created with and by a coalition of 40 organisations all of whom have a drive to end fuel poverty, which sadly still plights 2.33 Million people from low income homes that is a truly shocking figure representing almost 10.5% of all UK households. There are 6 million people in low income households not currently helped with fuel efficiency and at a time when fuel poverty is affecting more people than it has for a decade the time to change it is now.
Representatives from The Energy Bills Revolution, and Age UK gave impassioned speeches about the state the energy sector is in as well as its perception especially by the older generation, how hard people find it to switch, how much suffering is caused as a result of ever increasing bills and dwindling incomes. But we know the situation is bad, the real reason we were here was to know what the politicians were going to do about it.
The panel had 3 MP’s one from each of the main parties, Jonathan Reynolds from Labour previously Ed Miliband’s Private Parliamentary secretary and now Shadow Energy minister.
David Amess, a Tory who to his credit did push this issue through parliament over a decade ago with the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act in the year 2000. Then from the Lib-dems we had Stephen Lloyd whom in January this year became the private parliamentary secretary of energy and climate change working under Ed Davey.
The ‘Affordable Warmth manifesto’ suggested improvements in home efficiency and a commitment that all new homes built would also be a higher rate of fuel efficiency. I am pleased to say Labour have since committed to improving the efficiency to 5 million homes and set the target to build 200 thousand new homes a year delivering a more fuel efficient base for new properties and a commitment to 1 million jobs in green energy promoting efficiency. Labour suggested all areas of policy would be tackling the issue the cost is spread across departmental budgets while at the same time accepting that less new funds will be on offer for the mission.
I have not mentioned the government’s policies here because they are so feeble and their attitude towards the ‘Green crap’ just highlights their ambition to increase efficiency, cut bills in the medium term or indeed tackle the wider issue of scarcity in fossil fuels. Though where it is worth giving praise they have been active in promoting the use of easier tariffs with a smart meter and they have reached 400 thousand homes through the extension of their ECO -schemes.
The coalition nearly all mentioned the need of joining up care, so as to ensure that if people were showing signs of living in a cold or damp house and it was having an effect on their health services would be made aware to avoid the problem getting worse. This is the case in Sunderland for example where their area based scheme ensures people get the help they need through public services referring people to where the help is, be that in securing benefits such as winter fuel allowance, or visiting the GP to get a chesty cough sorted out.
Unfortunately many older and vulnerable persons, whose incomes do not stretch as far, don’t get uprated with inflation have seen a real terms cut in their standard of living and for too many this has had knock on effects that has a direct cost both to the individual and to society through increased burden on the NHS and care home costs for example. More needs to be done to help with ever increasing bills, a higher income to cover increased costs and more efficiency to reduce energy usage. Finally I am proud to say that Labour has policies on these issues, but for me the change cannot come quick enough and even the party’s proposals are limited in scope and ambition. More can be done though cheaper bills for example are not on offer though a freeze is and is achievable. An uprating of winter fuel allowance is not on offer, the minimum wage only tackles part of the issue as many of the fuel poor do not have jobs due to age, circumstance or luck.