Fuel Poverty

– in the House of Commons at 2:02 pm on 8 July 2021.

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Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth)

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered fuel poverty.

I am pleased to be able to open this debate, which is an annual opportunity for Members to raise their constituents’ views on the important question of fuel poverty. The past year has been a challenge for everyone, yet the impacts of the pandemic have not been felt equally. In particular, it has had a devastating impact on those already on a low income. The issues being faced by those in fuel poverty are not unique to the pandemic. The health implications of living in a cold home remain as serious as ever. Work is ongoing to address the issue and support those who are most vulnerable.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I appreciate the Minister giving way so early. She is illustrating the impact of covid and people in fuel poverty. Does that not underline the need to retain the £20-a-week universal credit uplift?

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth)

I will continue, if I may, and I hope I will answer the hon. Gentleman’s points.

Government-led energy-efficiency upgrades over the last decade have reduced the cost of heating homes, building resilience for all households, especially those on low incomes. I will come on to the energy-efficiency schemes that have kept households warm over the past year and the further action we are planning to take to accelerate progress towards tackling fuel poverty.

I would just like to acknowledge the importance of the strong relationships built with energy suppliers, which have been crucial during the pandemic. I thank them and their staff for their total commitment to looking after customers, despite risks to themselves. These relationships enabled us to quickly secure a voluntary agreement to support customers impacted by covid-19, which has been hugely successful in protecting those most vulnerable or at risk of debt, and came top of the Citizens Advice ranking of protection measures by industry. There is no doubt that more immediate support for those struggling to pay their energy bills and ensuring fairness within the energy market is important and I will come back to that later.

It is important to note that fuel poverty is devolved and that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has a responsibility for England. Each nation remains committed to tackling the issue and I welcome contributions from all hon. Members today as they raise their own nation’s issues.

In February this year, we published an updated fuel poverty strategy, “Sustainable Warmth: Protecting Vulnerable Households in England.” The strategy details our focus on energy efficiency, which enables warmer homes at lower cost, while also reducing carbon emissions in line with net zero. Our strategy reiterates the 2030 fuel poverty target in England, which is to ensure that as many fuel-poor homes—indeed, all homes—as is reasonably practical achieve a minimum energy-efficiency rating of band C by 2030.

A great deal has been achieved in the last decade, but there remain a significant number of households in need of support on our journey to the 2030 target. As of 2019, there are 3.18 million households in fuel poverty in England. That is a reduction of 1.6 million households since 2010. The main reason for the reduction in fuel-poor households over the last 10 years has been energy-efficiency improvements—improvements that are of benefit for many years to come.

Cold homes will often have issues with mould and damp. By installing energy-efficient measures, we are improving the comfort of our constituents’ daily lives. They are crucial in protecting and improving people’s health and helping to reduce the burden on the NHS, as well as reducing energy use and thereby reducing bills. We are focusing on improving the least energy-efficient homes first, to ensure some of those in the homes that are the most difficult and expensive to heat are prioritised. There has been significant progress.

Compared with 2010, there are now 1.3 million fewer low-income households living in the least energy-efficient homes—that is bands E, F or G. Our sustainable warmth strategy details the energy-efficiency schemes currently in place.

The green home grant local authority delivery scheme will deliver £500 million of energy-efficiency and low-carbon heating measures across the owner-occupied, private and social rented sectors. The home upgrade grant will support low-income households, with upgrades to the worst performing off-gas grid homes in England, providing energy-efficiency improvements and low-carbon heating alternatives.

In the 2019 Conservative manifesto, we committed to a £3.8 billion social housing decarbonisation fund over a 10-year period to improve the energy performance of socially rented homes. We have committed to a four-year, £4 billion successor scheme to the energy company obligation—the ECO, as it is known—across Great Britain. That will accelerate our efforts to improve homes to meet fuel poverty targets.

While these energy-efficiency schemes are crucial in reducing fuel poverty in the long term, we also recognise the need for short-term help, so our support for households in the winter months continues with the warm home discount, providing 2.2 million households with £140 off their energy bill this year. We are continuing to improve the scheme by expanding it and consulting on new ways to improve targeting to reach those most in need. Since 2011, it has provided more than £3 billion of rebates to households, helping keep homes warmer over the colder months.

Winter fuel payments provide pension age households with financial support worth up to £300 each year and cold weather payments support vulnerable households through particularly cold spells. They provided more than 3.6 million households in Great Britain with support last winter.

Alongside all the direct support, the voluntary agreement with energy suppliers has been crucial over the past year in protecting vulnerable customers. Our work with energy suppliers to ensure the best protection for low-income and vulnerable consumers and promote best customer service in a thriving energy market is vital, so we are working to reduce the impact of debt on fuel-poor households and identify those at risk of self-disconnection or self-rationing. Ofgem rules require suppliers to offer emergency and “friendly hours” credit to all prepayment customers at risk of self-disconnection. We are also working to improve the communications and advice available to everyone, to ensure that better engagement and information are readily accessible to consumers.

I assure hon. Members that we remain fully committed to addressing and reducing fuel poverty for our most vulnerable constituents so that all households can be assured of a warm and affordable home. We will continue to drive forward on delivering energy efficiency measures to reduce energy bills and create warmer, safer living environments, while providing direct support with energy bills and working alongside the energy market to ensure a better consumer experience and protect customers. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this important issue and look forward to hearing from colleagues.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:10, 8 July 2021

I, too, welcome the opportunity to talk about the whole question of fuel poverty. It is very helpful that an annual debate is required in Government time so that we can get to the bottom of the issues. We certainly need to, because as the Minister mentions, 3.2 million households in England, or 13.4%, are still in fuel poverty. I might add that that is under the new metric that the Government have introduced over the past year, along with their document “Sustainable warmth: protecting vulnerable households in England” and the updated fuel poverty strategy. Unlike in a number of other areas, the Government do appear to have a strategy on fuel poverty now, which is a good step forward. It is based on some changes in methodology and hence in the slant of a number of commitments on fuel poverty that the Government have made for the future.

Of course, as the Minister has mentioned, we should not in any way underplay the significance of what has happened over the past year. The pandemic has probably driven a substantial number of additional households into fuel poverty because people have been staying at home, using more energy and paying a lot more in energy bills. That effect is likely to continue for quite a long while, so there are several factors to consider in thinking about where we are now with fuel poverty and where we want to go.

One of the key changes that has been set out this year is a change in the definition of fuel poverty—what it consists of and how it is measured. I was a little surprised when I first heard that Lord Lilley, the former right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, had come up with a definition of fuel poverty, but that is not actually the low-income, low energy efficiency definition set out in the strategy. What is important about the new definition is that it explicitly includes a metric involving property banding in England. Property bands have not been specified in a definition before, although they have been in the Government’s ambitions for 2030; the Minister mentioned the target to get the properties of as many people in fuel poverty up to band C as possible.

Although that may not seem like an enormous difference, I think it is a really fundamental change inasmuch as it explicitly recognises for the first time that a very substantial element of fuel poverty is not just income, although that is very important, and is not just energy prices, although they too are very important, but is actually the energy efficiency of the properties people are living in and how bad that may be. Indeed, we know that there is a very considerable correlation between income, for example, and the kind of properties that people who have a low income—well below the median rate—are living in.

That correlation is very clear for the bands of properties people are living in. Indeed, we can see from the calculations of what a household bill is likely to consist of that that is a tremendous problem for people who have a low income. For example, an average band C property will have an estimated energy bill of about £600 a year. Go to band D and that figure is £900, but band E is £1,400, which is double or more the band C level. Worse than that, go down to band F and band G, and it gets to treble or more the band C bill. Those people who are in fuel poverty, with a lower income and less able to pay bills, are by and large facing much larger bills in the first place because of the nature of the property they are living in. The strategy essentially puts a much greater emphasis than hitherto on getting those properties into a fit state for people to live in so that their bills are such that fuel poverty is essentially written out by the energy efficiency of the properties the people are living in.

The recognition of that particular metric does, however, lead to very substantial and grave policy implications and commitments for the future, because what the Government are essentially saying is that they are going to get to average band C by 2030 to drive fuel poverty out in the way I have described. The judgment we have to make now is: are the Government in a position right now to actually fulfil that particular ambition in order to carry out the fuel poverty strategy they have set their mind on over the next period? My suggestion right now is that they are clearly not.

The Minister has, in a slightly Panglossian way, set out a number of commitments that will lead to the strategy being achieved by 2030, but they are mostly short-term strategies and mostly strategies that are poorly funded. In one instance, a strategy was mentioned in the poverty strategy itself:

“Invest in energy efficiency of households through the £2 billion Green Homes Grant, including up to £10,000 per low income household to install energy efficient and low-carbon heating measures in their homes”, but it actually disappeared just a month after it was set down in the fuel poverty strategy as one of the key drivers as far as the energy efficiency of homes are concerned. This is the green homes grant system that, as the Minister has acknowledged, got into terrible difficulties. It was, frankly, a pathetic attempt at investing £2 billion in energy efficiency in homes and needs to be recovered and revised very rapidly.

In that context, it is a shame that this debate comes just before the Government’s heat and buildings strategy is to be published. I understand that it is to be published shortly, but we are still on the wrong side of it. What I am looking for in that strategy is a coherent plan—not just a few bits and pieces here and there—for building an efficiency strategy right through the next decade, so that when we get to 2030, band C is the median for all properties. That will require a large amount of investment, and thinking of new ways to undertake changes in energy efficiency through bodily uprating the energy efficiency of properties throughout the whole country. It will also mean concentrating on those sectors—particularly the private rented sector—where we know that band D, E and F properties are concentrated, and having a coherent strategy to tackle the very low energy efficiency of such properties across the country.

I hope that in the heat and buildings strategy the Government have not given way to the pressure I know there has been in respect of ensuring that landlords in the private rented sector have a greater responsibility for bringing their properties up to a decent level of energy efficiency. Many of those who are in fuel poverty live in the private rented sector, sometimes in appalling conditions yet faced with enormous bills that they simply cannot afford, as part of their income, normally to discharge.

There is now a great onus on the Government to come forward with an energy efficiency strategy that meets the commitments made in the fuel poverty strategy from February onwards and to give a convincing account of how that strategy is to be met. Of course, I think all Members would agree that that is not the whole issue as far as fuel poverty is concerned; the question of income and what one does about that as far as benefits and assistance are concerned remains very important. That is also important in terms of the effect of the new strategy on people who are objectively in fuel poverty but happen to live in properties that are band C or above.

Several hundred thousand people have been knocked off, as it were, the fuel poverty concern radar by the LILEE—low income low energy efficiency—definition that came in this year. Those people’s circumstances have not objectively changed—they are in exactly the same position as they were—but the new definition has moved them out of a particular category. I hope that that particular section of the population will not be forgotten as a result of the new strategy. They would clearly need to be approached in different ways in terms of vulnerability measures, some of which the Minister outlined. We should not think that because we have changed the definition, we have somehow solved fuel poverty for that group of people.

We need to continue with a three-pronged approach to our fuel poverty targets: yes, we need energy efficiency; yes, we need to consider incomes and to make sure that people have the income to pay the bills in the first place; and, of course, we need to consider energy prices themselves. We have not yet had through the results of the energy price cap considerations for this year—I think that they, too, will come out shortly—but I hope that when they come out they will be relatively good news for those people who face increasing bills, year on year, as they struggle to try to meet their warmth and home energy commitments on low incomes and in the badly insulated homes that we all hope will be, by 2030, very much a thing of the past.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

This is a time-limited debate, but we will try not to put a time limit on individual contributions, so I ask for restraint, please.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 2:24, 8 July 2021

I support the Government’s aim of making a major reduction in fuel poverty, and I admire the Minister’s enthusiasm for the task and her wish to share with Parliament and to listen to good ideas from across the House.

There are three ways to tackle fuel poverty. The first is to help people have more efficient appliances and warmer homes so that they need to burn less fuel. The second is to cut the price of fuel itself. The third is to help people find better-paid jobs and give them encouragement in ways to boost their income.

We first need to work through the Minister on these plans and projects so that more homes can be upgraded and people do not have to live in damp and cold surroundings. How right she is about that. I ask her to make common cause with me in approaching the Treasury, because now that we are free to choose what to put VAT on and what to take it off, can we please have a Brexit bonus for those in fuel poverty by taking VAT off all those things they need to buy in order to improve their homes? Why are we still charging VAT on insulation materials, boiler controls and a whole range of green products that are necessary to lower a home’s fuel bill and improve its warmth and fitness for purpose? That would not be too big a charge on the Treasury, in terms of lost revenue, but it would be a great win for both the Government’s green strategy and their fuel poverty strategy. A bit dearer would be tackling the price of fuel directly by taking VAT off domestic fuel in its entirety, and that too I would welcome, because I think that fuel is expensive in this country and electricity is becoming very expensive.

I also urge the Minister to look at electricity policy generally. Time was when we had a great three-legged strategy for electrical power. The first leg was that the Government were responsible for ensuring that we could always generate all the electrical power we needed in Britain for ourselves, with a decent margin of spare capacity in case a large power station went down or there was a sudden surge in demand during a very cold winter. We do not seem to have that any more. I urge her to take action as soon as possible to commission the electrical power that we are going to need, because we do not wish to be dependent on unreliable and potentially very expensive foreign sources for import, should we get into difficulties with the amount of power we have available.

The second leg of the strategy was to go for cheap energy, because that is the way to get industrial recovery and revival, and to get more people out of fuel poverty because they can afford domestic fuel. Again, we seem to have dropped that leg. We seem to be opting for rather dearer fuel. We used to believe that the fuel supplied should always be the cheapest, whereas now, for various reasons, we often opt for a dearer way of producing electricity, or we opt for an apparently cheaper way but we need a lot of back-up capacity because renewables can be interrupted. We need to look at the charging mechanism and try to ensure that, with our overall new mix of energy, we can get cheaper power.

Then of course we also always had green imperatives, which are very necessary, and it is particularly important that clean air is central to the whole ambition, and that wherever we are burning fuels, we do everything we can to avoid dust, soot and particles emerging into the atmosphere, because they are not pleasant for any of us.

Boosting personal incomes is probably too wide a subject for the limited time of this debate, but let me just say that levelling up must be about encouraging people to go on their own personal journeys. It must be about making available the educational opportunities, training opportunities and promotion opportunities, within public bodies and throughout the private sector. It must be about working with people so that they see that if they are low paid today, they have a reasonable prospect of being better paid tomorrow.

Cheap energy can underpin all of that, because if we went for more cheaper energy, supplied domestically, we would have a bigger industrial base, because energy is often a much bigger cost than labour in a modern, fully-automated factory. That would create more better paid jobs to go alongside the factory; I am thinking of all the things that need to be done to design, market and sell on the products that the largely automated factory can produce. So please, Minister, let us make common cause with the Treasury, do more at home and create more better paid jobs at home. Let us understand the role, in all our ambitions, of having enough electrical capacity producing cheap power here.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 2:30, 8 July 2021

Like you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was shouting at the television last night.

The subject of today’s debate is very important. Everybody agrees that fuel poverty is a bad thing. It is debilitating. It causes mental and physical health problems. It is estimated that it can cost the NHS in England up to £2 billion a year in related health conditions. It causes people to die earlier, and it further shortens the remaining lifespan of those who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. It can force the terminally ill out of their homes as they face a death that they would rather manage in their own homes with their families. So I ask the Minister to consider the recommendations of the report by the all-party parliamentary group for terminal illness, entitled “No place like home”. I pay tribute to the work it has done in conjunction with Marie Curie.

National Energy Action estimates that, shamefully, there are approximately 10,000 premature deaths a year related to fuel poverty, so we really need to do what we can to eliminate this scourge. In Scotland, we have greater pressures because we have a colder and wetter climate and a high proportion of homes are off the gas grid. Within the off-gas-grid cohort in the highlands, many customers pay up to £400 more per annum to heat their homes because they have restricted meters and pay up to 4p more per unit of electricity. I ask the Minister why she thinks it is fair that that surcharge is added in an area that is actually now a net exporter of electricity to the rest of the UK. When will that injustice be resolved?

As the Minister said, fuel poverty is a devolved matter, but energy policy overall is reserved to Westminster, and 85% of welfare spending in Scotland is reserved to the UK Government. Although the Scottish Government are trying to address the devolved aspects, they are constrained by UK Government policy. One simple example of that is that the UK Government have confirmed that the universal credit uplift of £20 per week will be removed. If that uplift was required for people to live through covid, it is obvious that it will be required going forward. Otherwise, more people will end up in fuel poverty.

In contrast, last year, the Scottish Government introduced child winter heating assistance, which will support the families of about 14,000 of the most seriously disabled children and young people with automatic payments of £200 a year. As always, the Scottish Government are having to work wonders within a fixed budget.

Energy efficiency is devolved, but the UK Government refuse to cut VAT on insulation measures, despite a request from the Scottish Government. I support the call from John Redwood for that to be removed.

The UK Government designed the warm home discount and, although it provides welcome relief, it is actually paid for by other energy users, which puts others under pressure in terms of energy bills. It is the UK Government who are responsible for the energy company obligation scheme. The Committee on Fuel Poverty stated in 2018 that it has not been targeted at the correct audience. In March, the Environmental Audit Committee concluded that ECO will not achieve the fuel poverty targets required, and that the reality is that

“the poorest pay proportionally the most…this makes it a regressive policy.”

Energy UK, whose members are responsible for delivering the ECO scheme, has expressed concerns about the impact on the bills of the poorest. When will the UK Government and the Minister listen to those concerns and make relevant changes?

As we know, it is the UK Government who were responsible for the failed green deal scheme, which came about because they were determined not to have direct Government investment or on-book borrowing. I again ask the Minister: when will the HELMS victims be compensated for the mis-selling of green deals to them?

How renewable energy is paid for is under the remit of the UK Government. As a consequence, nearly a quarter of our electricity bills are now accounted for by energy policy decisions. That again puts more pressure on bill payers and could tip the scales for some, pushing them into fuel poverty, especially those in off-grid homes. The current imbalance in policy costs between electricity and gas bills really needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Overall, we need more direct UK Government investment and the UK Government need to follow the lead of the Scottish Government. It is not just the likes of myself as an Opposition Member saying that. Energy companies say it; many third sector organisations say it; the Committee on Climate Change, in its 2019 progress report, said it; and so did the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in its 2019 report, “Energy efficiency: building towards net zero”.

There are some key points in that BEIS Committee report, which stated:

“We note that Scotland’s investment of four times more than England cannot be explained by a less efficient dwelling stock…For example, in 2017, 49 per cent of homes in England had insulated walls, compared to 60 per cent of homes in Scotland…Scotland has made much faster progress in improving the energy efficiency of its fuel poor homes than England, where in some bands, progress has stalled.”

The statistics actually show that: 44% of Scottish homes were rated EPC band C or better in 2018, compared with just 34% in England and 28% in Wales.

The UK Government have given us a failed green homes grant scheme, whereby last year the Treasury clawed back £1.5 billion of the original allocation. What is actually needed from the UK Government is a long-term energy efficiency investment programme that will create jobs and deliver at best value, avoiding spikes in cost. It could be part of a green industrial revolution. It is no wonder that the BEIS Committee concluded its report by stating:

“The Government appears indifferent towards how public per capita spend in household energy efficiency in England compares to other parts of the UK…the governments of the devolved nations treat energy efficiency as a much higher priority than the UK Government.”

That comment on indifference is particularly damning. I would like to hear how the Minister responds to that.

By contrast, let us look to Scotland. The Scottish Government have an award-winning fuel poverty scheme, Warmer Homes Scotland, which is designed to help those who are living in or are at risk of fuel poverty through installing energy insulation and heating measures into individual properties. More than £124 million has been invested through the scheme since its launch in 2015, helping over 20,000 households. By the end of 2021, the Scottish Government will have allocated more than £1 billion since 2009 to tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency, including nearly £200 million this year alone.

Another important measure in Scotland is Home Energy Scotland, which is also award-winning. It provides impartial free advice for anybody concerned about paying their energy bills. Yet again, UK and English-based consumer groups think it is a model that the UK Government need to adopt. As we look to decarbonise our heating systems, having an impartial advice service, as we do in Scotland, will be critical when people have to consider key choices such as whether to purchase a new boiler, or when they are considering low carbon energy such as heat pumps.

That brings me to the target of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028. When will the Government bring forward a policy road map for the funding, and why are they not starting with a rolling programme aimed at off-gas-grid properties? That, combined with energy efficiency measures, would be an ideal way to tackle one category of fuel poverty. It is no wonder that the Committee on Climate Change, in its latest progress report, is scathing about the lack of UK Government policies. We really need to see the heat and buildings strategy, although it was disappointing that no energy Bill was listed in the Queen’s Speech.

The Scottish Government remain committed to implementing the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Act 2019 in full. It is the most ambitious and comprehensive fuel poverty legislation in the UK, setting challenging but achievable targets, including that by 2040 no more than 5% of households are fuel poor and no more than 1% in extreme fuel poverty. That is compared with the UK Government’s targets, which are based solely on energy certification, which in itself is not sufficient to eliminate fuel poverty.

In conclusion, it is quite clear that fuel poverty is another matter where the UK Government hold Scotland back. Plenty of other bodies can see that change is needed in UK-wide policy, which the UK Government are responsible for. We really need to see policy in action—sooner rather than later.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye 2:39, 8 July 2021

This is an incredibly important debate—it is of huge importance for residents across Hastings and Rye—and I welcome the Minister’s introductory comments on fuel poverty. It is hard to comprehend that, in our country today, some households still have to choose between heating and eating. The House of Commons report published at the end of June estimates that some 3.2 million households across England are in fuel poverty, with around 600,000 individuals having fallen into fuel poverty during the coronavirus pandemic.

I have seen for myself the pain and anguish that fuel poverty can cause for a household. Representing Hastings and Rye is a fantastic honour, as I genuinely believe it to be one of the greatest places in the UK to live and work. However, we have to face up to some of the harsh realities and the difficulties that we have. The tortuous decision of a parent who has to choose between putting the heating on in the winter and providing a hot meal for their child at the end of the day is a reality for far too many residents in my constituency. Over 10% of households in Hastings are in fuel poverty, a figure that shocks and saddens me.

However, the Government are helping to address that with their fuel poverty strategy. I am pleased to see from the energy White Paper that the warm home discount will be expanded to nearly 3 million homes, which will help households save £150 a year on electricity bills. I am particularly pleased to see that the social housing decarbonisation fund demonstrator has awarded £62 million to social landlords across England and Scotland to test innovative approaches to retrofitting at scale, with more than 2,300 social homes improved to EPC band C already.

I have seen the positive impact that retrofitting renewable energy, helped by grant funding at the time, can have in social housing. As a district councillor for Eastern Rother ward, I highlighted the issue of fuel poverty in Camber and Rye Harbour. Night storage heaters are expensive and do not provide heat when it is needed. Black mould and condensation are health concerns. I was delighted a couple of years ago to be asked to look at some retrofitted social housing in Camber, where solar panels with batteries and air source heat pumps had been put in. The tenants were delighted. There was no black mould and no condensation, and their homes were warm at lower cost.

However, we now need a new scheme to replace the old green homes grant, to help households make their properties more energy efficient, insulating them in the winter months and reducing their bills. Better-insulated homes will not only provide a financial benefit to those living in them, but help the Government and the country to meet our ambitious environmental targets.

We must do that in a way that does not burden households with huge costs to replace old boilers, install insulation and get their properties to an EPC rating of C or above. That is why I believe that a grant system to help households—especially those who are really struggling, such as the 10% of households in my constituency in fuel poverty—to improve the energy efficiency of their homes is one of the best ways forward. I would welcome any update that the Minister can provide on support for households already in fuel poverty who will need to improve their properties to meet the Government’s ambitious target that every home should have an EPC rating of C or above by 2030.

Let me end on a positive note. Although the recent pandemic has pushed up the number of households in fuel poverty, I am hopeful that the creativity of this Government and their determination to support and help those most in need will prove to be effective in finding a way to build on the support that is already in place and offer a way out of fuel poverty for thousands of households in my constituency and millions across our country.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Thank you very much for a very concise speech of five minutes. If everybody follows suit, we will get everybody in.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 2:44, 8 July 2021

Good afternoon, Mr Deputy Speaker. I shall try to be brief. A subject like this is one where I always prick up my ears, because the village of Altnaharra, in the centre of the Kyle of Sutherland in the north of my constituency, is always the coldest place each winter in the whole of the UK. I want to do two things: I want to share some statistics that have been provided to me; and I want to namecheck the Highland Council, which takes fuel poverty extremely seriously and has done good work.

The Highland Council’s own report identifies huge areas of the highlands in fuel poverty. Nearly all the county of Sutherland has a fuel poverty level of 70% of households. The Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust carried out research recently which showed that one in four children in Sutherland live below the poverty line. All this, as we know, has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Fuel poverty, boy oh boy, has been an issue for very many years. It is made worse by the electricity distribution charges that are levied by area. As a result, the highlands is disproportionately affected with the highest distribution charges levied anywhere in the UK. That is, ironically, in spite of the fact that we produce huge amounts of energy from green power—wind and hydro—which we actually export to the central belt of Scotland, sending it down south. The result is that the cost of each unit of electricity in the highlands is significantly higher than in London or in the central belt of Scotland.

In September last year, the Highland Council wrote to the UK Government asking them to bring in a national distribution charge for electricity to prevent that unfair practice. The reply said that they would not, but that a £60 million fund would be made available to mitigate the impact of higher distribution costs. My good friend Councillor Richard Gale, the councillor for East Sutherland, does not think there has been a reply or any further comment from the Government. May I therefore very politely ask my friend the Minister if she could possibly look at that and see what happened to the £60 million fund? If it could be forthcoming it would be fantastically helpful.

I completely support the argument put forward for the reduction in VAT on installation materials. That would be a tremendous step in the right direction. Let us hope that consideration will be given to it. Finally, the population of my constituency, and certainly the county of Sutherland, is an ageing population, so we can imagine how that is made still worse when we pile that on top of the fuel poverty issue. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker for your time and patience. That is my short speech concluded.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 2:47, 8 July 2021

Some 20 years ago, I introduced my private Member’s Bill to eliminate fuel poverty. It received Royal Assent in 2000 and was called the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act. It was inspired by a Polish gentleman living in a high rise block of flats who died of fuel poverty. As my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart said, no one should die of fuel poverty. I am delighted that fuel poverty in England fell by 3.9 million households between 1996 and 2004, and decreased by 34% between 2010 and 2019, but I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that the fact we are having this debate today means we still have not eliminated fuel poverty.

My 2000 Act placed on the Government a duty to produce a strategy to ensure an end to fuel poverty

“as far as is reasonably practicable” in 15 years. However, in a subsequent court case the judgment was that the words of the Act meant there could only be an “effort” to achieve the targets, instead of guaranteeing that they would be reached. In addition, the courts ruled that the words “as far as is reasonably practicable” meant that the Government could deprioritise fuel poverty if, for instance, resources were tight. In short, therefore, the courts ruled that there was no duty to end fuel poverty, only to try to do so. As a result, fuel poverty was not ended by 2016.

Fuel poverty needs to be eliminated, as the whole House agrees, as quickly as possible to maintain our population’s health and to prevent any avoidable deaths that can happen as a result of a cold home. I am pleased, however, that my Act has been updated and that the current duty to bring fuel-poor homes up to at least Energy Performance Certificate Band C by 2030 is set in regulations. However, the words

“as far as is reasonably practicable” are used time and again, so I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister can confirm today that the only exceptions to ending fuel poverty will be made due to the physical characteristics of the property or the occupiers’ refusal to have works carried out.

I introduced—listen to me, as if I am a separate Government—a Back-Bench Bill called the Domestic Properties (Minimum Energy Performance) Bill in the last Session

“to ensure that domestic properties have a minimum energy performance rating of C” and

“to give the Secretary of State powers to require persons to take action in pursuance of that duty”.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to agree to a meeting with her officials to discuss energy performance of buildings. I am working with the industry and experts on a revised version of the Bill. I know that no Government enjoys private Members’ Bills in reality; they always like to promote them themselves—I am not bothered about who takes the glory. I believe that it would certainly be beneficial in reducing fuel poverty if she and officials worked with me on the new Bill. Among other things, it would reduce the impact on the environment and make fuel more accessible to all in privately rented properties, social housing, new homes and owner-occupier properties.

There are brilliant charities throughout the country, especially in Southend, that help people who are struggling financially. Age Concern in Southend offers a range of support for older people. One of the concerning trends that it is starting to see is the number of older people requiring services that indicate they are housebound. This means that they use more fuel for heating and cooking while they are on a fixed income. There may be a fuel poverty crisis coming our way. This has, of course, been intensified by the coronavirus pandemic. The types of inquiries that Age Concern is receiving are for its befriending services, social activities and help at home. The Government need to invest in preventive measures that would get older people out of the house and active again. This will keep people healthier and help to alleviate the need for fuel use. This is where the Haven community hub in Westcliff comes in, which encourages people to leave their homes, where it is safe to do so with the current restrictions, and socialise.

In conclusion, it is promising that colleagues are debating this topic today and there have been improvements in reducing the rate of fuel poverty in the last 21 years, but really, I say to my right hon. Friend, we need to do more. The coronavirus pandemic has further pushed developments back and I hope that the Government perform their statutory duties by bringing fuel-poor households up to EPC band C by 2030. The wording of these regulations should not limit the extent to which fuel poverty can be reduced, as my Act suggested 21 years ago. People still need heating and electricity during the coronavirus pandemic and these problems will never go away unless concrete legislative action is actually taken.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Public Health and Primary Care) 2:53, 8 July 2021

It is always a pleasure to follow Sir David Amess, especially given his track record on this very important issue. Today is the first opportunity we have had to debate this subject since my fuel poverty and energy price caps debate in November last year. We all know that despite fuel poverty being a devolved issue, two of its three key drivers—energy prices and income—are reserved. We also know that just as living in a fuel-poor household impacts on many aspects of everyday life, there are numerous factors that impact on the drivers. That is one reason that I often raise fuel poverty in the House, most recently presenting an Energy Pricing Bill to urge us to have legislation to close the loophole that allows energy suppliers to exclude existing customers from their cheapest available tariffs.

The Library briefing highlights that the “poorest households pay disproportionately” towards the energy company obligation scheme and that this UK Government policy is considered “regressive” by the Environmental Audit Committee. I would argue that the loophole allowing existing energy customers to subsidise new energy customers is also regressive. While I am under little illusion about the chances of my Bill progressing, I hope that the Government will consider and take on these points.

I will not repeat much of the serious aspects of fuel poverty that I covered less than eight months ago, except to reiterate that we cannot underestimate the implications of living in a fuel-poor household and we must do everything to end the dilemma of whether a person heats their home or feeds their family, because that causes physical and mental distress and ill health. It is these health implications that I want to highlight today. However, it appears that it is not a priority for this Government given the announcement on the phase-out of the £20 universal credit uplift, potentially pushing half a million people below the poverty line just in time for the winter.

Through being forced to make heat or eat choices, people in fuel poverty have a poor diet if they want a warm home, and that causes and exacerbates physical and mental health issues as well as slowing recovery from existing conditions. Yet if those in fuel poverty choose to eat well they run other risks: living in a cold house increases their chance of suffering from heart attack, stroke or respiratory illness. The Committee on Fuel Poverty has already documented the correlation between cold homes and excess winter deaths and the World Health Organisation estimates that 30% of excess winter deaths are directly attributable to living in cold housing. It can be argued that there is a strong case for giving GPs the ability to prescribe heat.

I urge those who have not yet done so to read “No place like home”, the all-party group on terminal illness inquiry into housing and fuel poverty at the end of life. It is stark reading, but crucially it highlights the vicious cycle of fuel poverty and terminal illness. Additionally, the Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel, an adviser to the Scottish Government on tackling fuel poverty, highlights asthma, chest, breathing and mental health problems and slowed physical growth and cognitive development all as conditions that affect children living in a cold home. Elderly and vulnerable people living in cold houses also experience an increased risk of circulatory and respiratory disease, exacerbation of arthritis, an increased risk of falls and injury, social isolation, and poor mental health including anxiety and depression. In reality, fuel poverty disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in our society.

The effects of fuel poverty also further strain our overstretched NHS, which has borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has also shone a light on the pockets of poverty that exist within our communities. Its economic impact is taking its toll and combined with increased fuel bills as people spend even more time at home can lead to even more people struggling.

Eliminating fuel poverty is an important part of tackling poverty in general and therefore reducing inequalities in our society. The Scottish fuel poverty advisory panel is working with Members and organisations to provide information that can help us better understand the connections between fuel poverty and health, and it has welcomed the support the Scottish Government have given to those in fuel poverty and poverty generally throughout the covid-19 pandemic.

I could say much more about what is happening in Scotland and what is wrong with the support we get from Westminster, but I am mindful of the time and that other Members want to speak. I am sure we will return to this debate over the months ahead. I look forward to the Minister’s summing up and hope that the Government will consider some of the points raised in my speech and Bill.

Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Labour, Coventry North West 2:57, 8 July 2021

I am grateful to speak in such a vital debate.

As many Members have stated, the scale of fuel poverty in the United Kingdom is staggeringly and unacceptably high. In England, more than one in 10 households is forced to spend more than they can afford on energy, and in my own city of Coventry that figure almost doubles. Those numbers should be a source of shame for the Government and we have heard time and again about the devastating impact of fuel poverty on family finances, health and mental health. The pandemic has certainly exacerbated the impact of fuel poverty.

The covid-19 issue has slashed incomes for many and increased home energy usage. Unsurprisingly, this has led to increased debt owed to big utility companies. With many people still not working full time or at all and the furlough scheme on the verge of disappearing entirely, more than 2.5 million people will be forced to begin paying back the fuel debt incurred throughout the pandemic, which many simply cannot afford.

Last March the Government launched a policy encouraging energy companies to reassess the energy debt owed by those who were fuel-poor and suffering because of the pandemic. This policy has since lapsed and I urge the Government to take immediate action to revive and strengthen it, because without support many families in Coventry will find themselves struggling to repay debt and bills that they cannot afford.

There are other concrete steps that the Government can and must take to alleviate fuel poverty. Sustained investment in making homes more energy-efficient must be a priority in the upcoming spending review: investment is vital to reducing fuel poverty. In fact, the Conservative party’s manifesto at the last election promised £2.5 billion for a home upgrade grant scheme for homes that are not fuel-efficient, significantly lowering the cost of heating them. The Prime Minister repeated that pledge in his 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, but warm words will not warm homes. We need investment right now.

If the Government do not upgrade homes immediately, we will see those in fuel poverty suffer increased health complications and further financial strife. From speaking to energy experts this week, I learned that single parents and their children are most negatively impacted by fuel poverty. It is single parents and their children who will continue to suffer the effects of fuel poverty in the highest numbers if the Government do not follow through on their lofty promises.

As we work to make Britain’s homes more efficient, we must also ensure that all new policies are fair. That is why the Government must revise the new green gas levy, which presently means that energy users, whether they are a single mother or a big company, will pay the same amount towards subsidising biogas. Surely that is a very regressive tax: it means that the poorest will pay a much higher proportion of their income than very wealthy and big companies. The Government must fix the green tax levy so that it does not punish the poor unfairly. They must not leave the most vulnerable literally out in the cold. I really hope that the Minister will consider some of the points made today.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East 3:01, 8 July 2021

It is an honour to speak after my hon. Friend Taiwo Owatemi.

Fuel poverty is like food poverty: it is not complicated. It is poverty, and I do not know anyone who has chosen to be poor. To address it, we need better-paid jobs, affordable housing and reinvestment in the welfare state, and we need people to be treated equally, with fairness and respect. When someone, or a family, has no gas or electricity in their home and cannot afford to pay their bills, that is fuel poverty. When they are unable to have a shower, warm their home and make a hot meal, they are in crisis—they are in fuel poverty.

Fuel poverty is not as visible as food poverty—we cannot see families queuing up for fuel parcels—but for families around the UK rationing their hot water and for pensioners shivering, it is very real. The latest estimate from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was that there were more than 3 million households in fuel poverty—and that was prior to the pandemic.

I recently spoke to a headteacher of a school in my constituency. Many of the low-income families there will be drained of money because of costly fuel meters, and in spite of their child contracting the virus, they cannot afford to isolate because they must leave their home to top up their gas and electricity meters. Their dilemma is understandable when we consider how punitive the penalties are for entering into arrears on a prepayment meter: as much as 70% of a top-up amount can be deducted if the payee is in debt. These companies make it harder for poorer people and families—they take more from those who do not have much. The Government really must do something about it. They cannot stand back and pretend that it is not happening. Will they make a difference for all communities, to prevent all people and families from experiencing fuel poverty? They must review this measure and do something about it.

As we know, debt can quickly snowball, with vulnerable people turning to payday lenders or worse. Universal credit, with its delays and sanctions, just makes their circumstances more desperate. Yesterday, in the Justice Committee, I became aware that as a result of certain debts due to poverty, such as an unpaid TV licence, a person can end up in prison. It is acutely expensive to keep someone in prison—much more expensive than a TV licence. Ultimately, that means that people are being punished for being poor. How does that make sense?

Let us look at health. Health services in England spend £1.3 billion to treat the impacts of cold homes, such as bronchitis. With poverty comes worry and stress, which can lead to emotional and mental health difficulties. All those things can have an impact on primary and secondary healthcare, and they all come at a cost. With water bills, lower-income households can pay lower rates, but there is no such provision for energy bills. Will the Minister commit today to introducing a measure, such as a social tariff, that will bring consistency to the Government’s policies? As we have already heard, the Government have also made a manifesto commitment to making our energy system more efficient. Do they have any intention of following through on that?

I would like to end by drawing attention to one of the victims of this cruel crisis. Christians Against Poverty told me of the miserable experience of John, who said:

“It’s an awful time when you can’t get electric, you can’t have the lights on. Never mind the TV and the radio. It feels black, it is black and it feels dark. It’s not nice. You think what’s the point of trying to struggle on?”

I hope the Government are listening, as this problem can be solved. We need a new fuel strategy—a new fuel strategy that focuses on green energy and a new fuel strategy that equally focuses on the customer’s welfare.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) 3:05, 8 July 2021

No one should have to make the choice between feeding their family or heating their home, yet this is the choice that the 3.2 million households living in fuel poverty face. In Bath and North East Somerset, generally considered an affluent area, over 10% of households are struggling with their fuel bills. We are fortunate enough to have an excellent Citizens Advice, but Citizens Advice cannot replace urgent Government action.

The effects of fuel poverty are heartbreaking, such as needing to wrap up in a duvet in damp conditions with restricted mobility. Existing health conditions, including mental health, deteriorate fast and family life is often under severe pressure. The pandemic has made things even worse. It has created additional financial hardship while increasing household bills, as people were forced to stay at home and wholesale energy prices rose. Research suggests that people working from home added an extra £16 a month on energy costs, adding up to £195 a year for those on poor value tariffs.

We must address fuel poverty not only to end this unjustifiable inequality, but because it could be a major step forward in tackling the climate emergency. All too often fuel poverty goes hand in hand with poor housing, especially poor insulation. Energy inefficient homes are not just bad for the environment, but a huge drain on the household bills of low-income families. Behind the reduction in fuel-poor homes in 2018-19 was the increase to an energy efficiency rating to band C or higher, but the Government are relying only on the energy company obligation and the warm home discount. That is simply not enough.

The Government need to make much more serious efforts to drive the retrofitting of Britain’s old housing stock. We need a coherent plan, and we need action, not words. Where are the training programmes to dramatically build up the skills base we need? Where are the tough energy efficiency and heating regulations? Why do the Government not give more powers to lead on the delivery of the schemes to local authorities, which are in a much better position to support house owners and landlords, and better identify the households living in fuel poverty?

The clearest example of the Government’s failure is the scrapping of the green homes grant only five months after it was introduced. Only 6% of the budget was spent, and only a fraction of the vouchers were given out. Rather than ending the whole scheme as quickly as it was introduced, the Government should have extended the scheme over 10 years, with the clear aim to end fuel poverty and cut greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the decade. With a long-term commitment, the industry would have been able to scale up to deliver this massive task. Knee-jerk actions and short-termism are not just bad for the environment; they are letting down the 3.2 million households that will continue to live in fuel poverty. I urge the Government to reinstate a new net-zero homes grant, but this time with a long-term commitment to end fuel poverty once and for all.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:09, 8 July 2021

As always, it is a pleasure to speak on this issue. As others have said, fuel poverty is a devolved matter, but energy prices and incomes are the responsibility of this place, so this debate is as pertinent to my constituents as it is to anyone elsewhere. I was involved in this issue in my former role in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and also on the council, where we had many initiatives to address fuel poverty. It was good to be involved in those initiatives, because those sorts of issues were coming into my office on a regular basis.

The pandemic has exacerbated the issue of fuel poverty. For me, when I was at home and unable to do visits, I was still able to do some of the work around the farm. I am sure everyone has heard people being described as a Jack of all trades and a master of none. I would not say that I was a master of none. I can probably make sure the carpentry stays together and the electrics do not break down, but does it look pretty? Probably not. Maybe that is the difference between a skilled person and me.

For many others, however, lockdown was almost a time of captivity, and those on the poverty threshold who lived above the benefit cap and whose wages were then reduced to 80% had to make every penny count when they were restricted to their homes. When people are in their homes for a long period of time, their heating bills go up. For those who worked in offices, HMRC allowed an allowance to be claimed against tax when they were working from home. That was not available for those on furlough, however. Fuel poverty in our nation is very real and it has been felt more than ever during the covid lockdown. People could not head to their mum’s or their sister’s for the day to use their heating; they had to heat their own home or sit there in blankets and extra clothes, as others have said. That is not a picture I normally associate with the UK, yet data has shown that that was the case.

In August, Citizens Advice estimated that 2.8 million UK adults had fallen behind on their energy bills. The Policy Institute at King’s College in London estimated that three in 10 people had experienced a reduction in their income as a result of coronavirus, that three in 10 people had cut back on non-essential spending, and that only two in 10 had more money left at the end of the month. The combination of reduced incomes and increased debt has had a profound impact on householders. A National Energy Action survey of organisations working to support fuel-poor households found that three quarters said that there was a high risk of an increased build-up of fuel debt as a direct result of the pandemic.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group for healthy homes and buildings, and one of the things we are interested in is the insulation of homes and making homes more suitable for people. We have done an inquiry on that, and for me this issue is incredibly important. The APPG on fuel poverty and energy efficiency has produced a marvellous briefing with a number of key points that I absolutely agree with. One of the most pertinent is that, within the upcoming heat and building strategy, the UK Government must set out a clear energy efficiency standard for both the private and social rented sectors. The briefing further highlighted that in the Government’s plans to reach net zero, regulating retail energy markets and increasing incomes must work alongside energy efficiency improvements to support all UK nations to end fuel poverty and to achieve a fair and affordable energy transition.

It is said that meeting the net zero targets could result in as much as a 20% increase in energy costs. If the experts are right and that is the case, we could have a problem. It is great to set targets for ourselves, but they must be achievable. I could set myself a target to learn Mandarin Chinese during recess, if I had the time and I was not so busy, but the reality is that learning that beautiful, complex language in that short space of time is highly unlikely. The point I am making is that targets must be achievable, which means that resources must be in place and schemes must be available to all earners and non-earners to update wall insulation, which cuts energy bills and as a bonus is better for the environment. We must commit to resourcing those schemes.

We must also commit not simply to uplifting income for some families but to changing the way they spend their money. A households is said to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10% of its income on energy costs. In Northern Ireland, the rate of fuel poverty is 22%. Three factors can and must be addressed by the Government: income, the cost of energy and the domestic energy efficiency of homes. The need is clear and the path is clear. We must begin the journey remembering to bring the working poor and those who are on benefits with us. If we do that—and I believe the Government have that commitment—we can achieve something.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby 3:14, 8 July 2021

I thank the Members who have secured this important debate.

An estimated 3.2 million households, or one in 10, are currently living in fuel poverty in England, meaning that they are below the poverty line and face much higher bills due to poor levels of energy efficiency in their homes. The covid-19 crisis has worsened existing inequalities that our communities face and has pushed many into unimaginable levels of hardship. In August, Citizens Advice estimated that 2.8 million UK adults had fallen behind on their energy bills. That will no doubt include people who receive legacy benefits and will be denied the £20-a-week uplift. I urge the Minister to press her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to end this injustice, which has resulted in 4,889 of my constituents missing out on vital support during the pandemic.

This week in Liverpool West Derby I spoke about this issue to Jo from St Andrews Community Network, which does a fantastic job in combating poverty in my community. Jo told me that it recently sent out an email asking the networks of food banks throughout my constituency to prepare kitchen packs for people suffering from fuel poverty who can only use a kettle to prepare foods. These packs consists of noodles, tinned fruit and meats that can be eaten cold. Let that sink in: it is 2021 and many families in my constituency are using a kettle to prepare food for their children’s meals on a daily basis. How is that levelling up, Minister? I put on record my gratitude to the team at Liverpool City Council for the citizen support scheme, which offers support for people in crisis, but without a fair funding settlement for councils, it is now under threat.

As a Commons Library briefing explains, cold homes can have negative impacts on both mental and physical health, potentially adding demand on the NHS and social care providers and directly contributing towards more people dying in the upcoming winter. Health impacts of cold homes include increased risk of heart attack or stroke, respiratory illnesses, poor diet due to “heat or eat” choices, and worsening of or slow recovery from existing conditions. Those most at risk of ill health from fuel poverty include children, the elderly, people with disabilities and people with long-term illnesses.

With this in mind, it is unthinkable that in the middle of a pandemic the Government are pushing ahead with plans that will cut support and push people even further into fuel poverty. The plan to scrap the £20-a-week universal credit uplift is shameful and must be reversed. How can the Government cut universal credit when it is clear that more support is needed, not less? This comes alongside the Government ending the eviction ban and tapering down furlough, both of which will leave people vulnerable to food poverty and debt in communities throughout this land. I genuinely fear for the situation facing our community this winter when the pandemic is far from over and when, as is clear from the Library briefing, fuel poverty already leads to illnesses that place people at serious risk from covid-19.

I ask the Minister to put herself in the shoes of a mother in the winter, freezing cold because they cannot afford to put the gas heating on and heating the kettle for the noodles they have received in a kitchen pack from the food bank for their family, and ask herself if that is something that one of the wealthiest countries in the world should be allowing to happen while, worse still, making policies that enable it further. I urge her to remember that image when she devises the policies that are creating this environment and, for the good of this nation, to change course and show some humanity, not cold indifference.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:18, 8 July 2021

We have had an excellent debate that is absolutely up to the mark as regards the requirements of the fuel poverty legislation. The debate has underlined the human cost of fuel poverty. Contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) emphasised that to tremendous effect, as did my hon. Friend Ian Byrne. We always need to remember that at the heart of the fuel poverty debate is the human misery and suffering brought about by it. We need to strive with all our might to remove it as a stain on our country in the 21st century; we could do so much better.

We also heard from Sir David Amess, who was at the heart of it when fuel poverty issues were first debated many years ago. Indeed, I have been alongside him debating those issues for quite a while myself. He must be grievously disappointed by the glacial progress being made on the elimination of fuel poverty in our country.

The Minister has heard a universal contribution from all Members here this afternoon that the Government must do better. I look forward to the new policies that are coming forward, which I hope will give a clear indication of just how the Government are going to do better, because they are a long way away from closing the gap between ambition and action and putting that into operation. I am sure we will debate the matter on frequent occasions in the future, but I look forward to those strategies. I hope they will be up to the mark in doing what we now know we need to do on fuel poverty in all its aspects. Perhaps from this afternoon’s debate we can bring out a renewed vigour to get on with it.

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth) 3:21, 8 July 2021

I thank all those who have spoken this afternoon. It has been a really powerful and important debate. I particularly thank my right hon. Friend John Redwood. It might be rare to see him and Alan Brown standing up together to lobby the Treasury on reducing or removing VAT on insulation and other green products, but who am I to stop such a bonding of those least likely to want to campaign together? It is a fascinating issue, and we should all watch closely and hope that this will be a new match to take on some of the green challenges that we all want to see fixed.

I thank the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun for raising the issues that the all-party parliamentary group for terminal illness raised. I will make sure that I read that report and look at it in more detail. As I said, Scotland obviously has its own devolved controls over fuel poverty issues, but I recognise, as someone who lives in Northumberland, that the challenges of weather do cause differences, and we have to be conscious of that as we work towards finding those solutions.

I thank my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart for being such a great and persuasive advocate for her constituency. She understands clearly and in depth that there are areas in her constituency that need more support. I hope that she will work closely with her local authority on the schemes it can deliver to help insulate homes and make sure that she drives it to greater success.

It is always a pleasure to hear from my hon. Friend Sir David Amess, although we did not hear any calls for city status. His total commitment on this issue is heartening at every level. He has campaigned on it and has driven a change in many Government policies over the years. I hope that he supports the renewed drive and, indeed, supports bringing in the band C requirement as part of our fuel poverty strategy. That will not only drive the short-term ways we can help support families in fuel poverty, but will make sure we will change forever the landscape of our property mapping across the country. Properties in bands D, E and F will be brought up to scratch to ensure that we do that.

We must continue to take action to address the fuel poverty that still exists. As we move towards our 2025 milestone and our ambitious 2030 fuel poverty target, we are very aware of the challenges that remain. By focusing on energy efficiency and delivering 1.6 million households out of fuel poverty, and as we move to those low-carbon heating solutions and net zero by 2050, we have the opportunity to ensure that those on low incomes are not left behind. A fair and affordable transition will be key to protecting those who are in fuel poverty.

The social housing decarbonisation fund will deliver energy-efficient homes. Support such as the home upgrade grant, which is due to begin delivery early next year, with a commitment to a £4 billion successor energy company obligation scheme, will continue to help push forward a reduction in the homes that need to be improved.

For anyone whose questions I have not answered, I will make sure that we do so in writing. I thank everyone for their important and thoughtful contributions today.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered fuel poverty.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

We will suspend briefly for the sanitisation of both Dispatch Boxes, then we will resume with the next debate.

Sitting suspended.