I am delighted to be debating such an important issue with the Minister in this, our first debate together in this Chamber. I welcome the comments he has made thus far.
As Members are aware, this debate is a statutory requirement. As such, it is a prime opportunity to examine the efficacy of the Government’s actions to date in tackling fuel poverty. As the Minister has said, it is an opportunity for Members to share experiences from their own constituencies on this matter.
My local authority has been championing its own fuel poverty strategy. “A Fair Energy Deal for Salford” is one campaign that it is working on with partners such as National Energy Action, energy companies, registered social landlords and landlords in the private rented sector to obtain a pledge to reduce the number of prepayment meters and replace them with standard meters. A shocking 22% of households in Salford have prepayment meters, whereas the national average is 15.1%, as the Minister knows.
In addition, the ability of my local authority to assist vulnerable households has been extended. It launched the “Warm Salford” campaign in 2015, which provides additional grants to give vulnerable households better access to energy company obligation products or to assist those who are vulnerable, but who do not meet the criteria of the national schemes.
We also launched the Warm Salford Referral Network in October 2014, which brings together a partnership of local authorities, the NHS and third-sector partners. It aims to reach those who are most vulnerable to fuel poverty. The good news is that from 2015 to December 2016, more than 310 vulnerable households were referred to it, given advice and referred on for the help they needed to access local, regional and national schemes.
Despite that positive news, 11,333 homes—that is 10.8% of Salford’s households—are still living in fuel poverty. Nationally, despite similar action by other local authorities, more than 4 million families and households are living in fuel poverty in the UK. That is 15 homes in every 100. Members from all parts of the House will no doubt have been contacted by their constituents about fuel poverty. If not, I suggest that they watch the film “I, Daniel Blake”, which shows in painful detail the desperation of one family trying to warm themselves on tea lights in a plant pot because they cannot afford to top up the prepayment meter.
I met one such constituent in Salford—a mother who was living in poorly maintained private sector accommodation, with small children sleeping beside walls covered in black mould. There was not enough money for that mother to pay the bills or even turn the heating on to alleviate the damp conditions. The desperation in that mother’s eyes when she told me she just could not cope any more, as I tried to find help out there, will haunt me forever.
Sadly, that is not a stand-alone case. A cold, poorly insulated home does not just mean that lots of heat is wasted, resulting in a high bill; it means people getting ill, repeated visits to the doctor, a much longer recovery time and, ultimately, greater pressure on the NHS.