Fuel Poverty

Part of Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:28 pm on 21st March 2017.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:28 pm, 21st March 2017

Mr Deputy Speaker, I had until recently hoped to be greeting your female colleague—Madam Deputy Speaker—as you and I have spent so much time in the Chamber over the past few days. In her absence, it is a delight to welcome you to the Chair.

I thank colleagues on both sides of the House for their contributions to this debate. I will respond to some of their many points but, first, I will recap the situation. The most recent statistics, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and Industry in his opening remarks, show that there were approximately 780,000 fewer homes in the lowest energy efficiency rating bands—E, F and G—in 2014 compared with 2010, which demonstrates real, sustainable progress towards the 2020 and 2025 milestones. It is clear from the statistics that the fuel poverty milestones and target are backloaded and that the scale of improvements required to reach each of the target dates increases over time.

Today, the energy company obligation regulations are being debated in the House of Lords. They seek to increase the proportion of support directed at low-income homes. Although the ECO policy has reduced in size compared with the scale of recent years, support for low-income households has been protected. In fact, the regulations for the new scheme to launch on 1 April 2017 represent an increase from £310 million to £450 million a year.

Combined with immediate support on the cost of energy bills provided via the warm home discount, there will be at least £770 million of support for low-income and vulnerable consumers over 2017-18. That is a significant commitment towards some of the households that are faced with the challenge of keeping their home warm. It is therefore far from true that, as Caroline Lucas said, the Government are turning their back on the situation. Quite the opposite.

The shadow Minister, Gill Furniss, criticised what she described as the Government’s “quite abysmal” record. I can do no better than to point out that, in the years from 2003 to 2010, the last Labour Government succeeded in increasing the number of fuel-poor households from 2.41 million to 2.49 million. The result of what she regards as an effective energy policy was to increase the number of people in fuel poverty.

Regulation, particularly for landlords, will also play an important role in making progress towards the milestones, as will other actions such as the safeguard tariff for pre-payment meters and the roll out of smart meters. In the longer term, the Government will be assessing the resources and policy mix required to meet the 2030 fuel poverty target. However, flexibility is important given the long-term, structural nature of fuel poverty. We should not, in 2017, seek to say precisely how best we can meet the target or commit future Governments to 13 years of spending in a particular way given that so much could change in the energy sector and in applicable technologies.