Fuel Poverty

Part of Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:16 pm on 21st March 2017.

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Photo of Gill Furniss Gill Furniss Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Steel, Postal Affairs and Consumer Protection) 3:16 pm, 21st March 2017

We are in a cold homes crisis, with more than 4 million households in fuel poverty across the UK. Across the UK in 2014-2015, there were 43,900 excess winter deaths. According to the World Health Organisation, a minimum of 30% of those deaths resulted from cold homes. In my constituency, there are 7,241 households struggling in fuel poverty. Life in fuel poverty is miserable. No one should be choosing between heating their home and eating. Children should not be growing up in cold, damp rooms. Old people should not have to stay in bed or live in just one room because they cannot warm their house.

This debate is happening because the last Administration’s fuel poverty strategy, published in 2015, mandated it to happen. The current statutory target is to lift as many fuel-poor households up to band C energy efficiency standard “as is reasonably practicable” by 2030. This Government’s record on fuel poverty and their performance against that target are abysmal and going nowhere fast. The charity National Energy Action estimates that at this rate we will miss the target by 80 years. Yes, 80 years. A baby born today will not see the end of fuel poverty in the UK in her lifetime. That is a scandal. That is approximately calculated by noting that around 30,000 fuel-poor houses per year are being brought up to band C. That is so far from what is needed that I do not know how the Government can defend it.

What response to this striking lack of progress have we had from the Government? They say that they will spend less on energy efficiency measures—measures that are recognised in their own fuel poverty strategy as the most sustainable way to make permanent progress on fuel poverty. Under a Labour Government in 2007, we saw 2.5 million energy efficiency measures implemented in a single year. That number has now fallen off a cliff. Under this Government’s policies, we will see 12% of that. Total investment fell by 53% between 2010 and 2015, and England is now the only UK nation without a Government-funded energy efficiency programme. That has not been the case for 30 years.

The Government lack the necessary political will and determination to address this injustice. It is so frustrating, not just because it condemns thousands of households to continued misery, indignity and ill health, and not just because the youngest, the oldest and the poorest in our society are hit hardest by fuel poverty, but because the solutions are so clearly and obviously sensible.

Properly addressing fuel poverty would ease the burden on the NHS. National Energy Action estimates that £1.6 billion is spent each year on treating the impacts of cold homes. Labour’s commitment to insulate 4 million homes would create over 100,000 jobs and apprenticeships, as well as training programmes across every region of the country. Those homes would have reduced energy bills, which is another key driver of fuel poverty. A report by Cambridge Econometrics and Verco found that every £1 invested in an ambitious energy efficiency programme such as Labour’s would return £3. The plan would reduce natural gas imports by 26% by 2030 due to reduced demand, save £8 billion a year on energy bills, increase relative GDP by 0.6% by 2030 and reduce carbon emissions.

One of the ways to bring energy efficiency measures to fuel-poor households is through the energy company obligation or ECO. The newly costed ECO will cost £640 million a year—a 42% reduction compared with the previous phase of the programme. While the Government may say that that is more tightly focused on fuel poverty, the reality is a massive funding cut. This Government are betraying those in fuel poverty and snubbing their own legal targets.

A key risk factor for those in fuel poverty is living in a household that is off the gas grid. Non-gas households rely on more expensive fuels, such as electricity and oil, to heat their homes and often live in harder-to-treat, energy-inefficient properties with no central heating or solid walls. Some 20% of fuel-poor households are off the gas grid, yet they have received only 1.4% of the measures under the affordable warmth element of ECO since 2013.