By Christopher Evans MP - 8th August 2011
There is no "magic bullet" to bring an end to fuel poverty, says Chris Evans MP.
Fuel poverty has more than doubled in the UK since 2003. It is a serious and complicated issue and is defined as affecting those people who pay more than 10 per cent of their income on energy bills.
It is caused by unaffordable fuel prices combined with poor housing stock, which will often be fitted with insufficient insulation and inefficient heating systems.
The UK has just experienced the coldest December in 100 years, resulting in every household using more energy to heat their homes leading many households into fuel poverty.
One of the major defining factors of fuel poverty is low income, leaving families who are already feeling the pinch to make the decision between paying for heating or buying food. In many cases fuel poor houses are not energy-efficient and are more expensive to heat.
To complicate matters further, measures such as the winter fuel payment, central heating programmes and the energy efficiency commitment which have all played an important role in tackling fuel poverty have been eroded by the financial crisis and the recent announcements by energy companies of significant price increases.
Many families, who struggle to makes ends meet, sometimes not even having enough money to pay for the weekly shop, find that an unexpected rise in fuel bills will have a detrimental effect on the quality of their lives.
This means they will have to cut back on essential items in order to allocate money for rising fuel bills or will have to turn down their heating, risking their health by increasing the chances of contracting common ailments such as colds, flu or bronchitis.
Fuel poverty really is a scourge in society, causing stress in children and adults as well as long-term depression and anxiety. To many individuals and families it can be the main cause of social exclusion, deteriorating life chances and educational achievement.
However, there is no 'magic bullet' to bring an end to fuel poverty. The complexity of the issue means that there cannot be a 'one size fits all' solution to tackling fuel poverty; therefore it is important that we look for long-term, sustainable solutions for families in fuel poverty.
The coalition government has set out its energy strategy in the Energy Security and Green Economy Bill with its 'Green Deal', whereby loan-funded insulation costs pay for themselves through efficiency savings.
However, at the same time the coalition has announced it is cutting Warm Front funding to a third of its current level - this threatens to leave many fuel poor households even worse off.
It is important to remember that fuel poverty is not simply about schemes and programmes it really is a matter of life and death for the many people who are forced to live in cold and damp conditions in their homes.
We need a new, far-sighted fuel poverty strategy, which ensures that fuel poor households have a decent income, and that sustainable energy saving measures is prioritised.
Christopher Evans was elected as Labour MP for Islwyn in 2010.
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This article was first featured on January 19 ahead of Chris Evans MP's Westminster Hall debate on fuel poverty.