The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We must be bold in these areas and consider everything that we possibly can. I thank him for that intervention.
Gas distribution networks, which manage the network infrastructure that transports gas to homes and businesses across GB, should deliver 14,864 new connections to fuel-poor households, but funding for new central heating systems available through the ECO is limited to 4,000 systems, so funding is lacking for over 10,000 households. In the spring Budget, the Chancellor completely failed to act on that and provided no extra funding to ensure that the most affected fuel-poor households are given the support to stay warm. Regrettably, that seems to be a running theme in the Government’s approach to tackling fuel poverty. Given the shortage of funds, I hope the Minister can explain how exactly the Government intend to tackle the off-gas homes that are most at risk of severe fuel poverty.
The warm homes discount is an annual payment of £140 to around 2.1 million households to relieve pressure on their energy bills, but it was revealed last year that only 15% of those in receipt of the discount were actually in fuel poverty. The Treasury, then under the new editor of the Evening Standard, said that the system was working, but the scheme’s targeting is a total failure. The Minister for Climate Change and Industry said in a Delegated Legislation Committee last year that the Government would address that through better data-sharing in the Digital Economy Bill, but the Government are yet to explain how they will improve targeting.
A co-ordinated, comprehensive approach to fuel poverty at a local level can be key to tackling the cold homes crisis. In its 2015 cold weather plan, Public Health England made it clear that fuel poverty and reducing excess winter illness and death should be deemed core business by health and wellbeing boards and should be included their strategy plans. However, research has found that 40% of the 152 health and wellbeing boards in England failed to address fuel poverty in their strategies. I have written to my local health and wellbeing board to ask them about its progress on implementing the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines. It replied that the savage cuts to local funding and the lack of Government funding to address fuel poverty directly have made it difficult to implement the NICE guidelines fully. This Government have been standing still on fuel poverty and going backwards on energy efficiency measures to address it.