Fuel poverty is a crisis affecting millions of low-income households across the United Kingdom. Those suffering from it are often forced to choose between heating and eating.
What is it?
The official definition of fuel poverty is any household that needs to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel or energy to heat their home to a satisfactory standard that prevents cold-related illness from occurring.
Inefficient buildings and appliances, low incomes, rapidly increasing energy prices all contribute. People on low incomes, or no income, are made vulnerable due to either the rental system – which protects landlords over tenants – or the social housing system, which provides poorly maintained housing.
There are thousands of people with existing medical conditions without effective home heating or hot water. This presents yet another issue to an already stretched National Health Service.
In the UK, the latest estimates suggest that around 13% of households in England, 25% in Scotland, 12% in Wales, and 18% in Northern Ireland are suffering from fuel poverty.
In addition to these groups, there are ‘super output areas’, where a large group of people fall prey, often in council estates and lower-income neighbourhoods.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated widespread financial hardship, fuel poverty has worsened over the past year since those estimates were made.
The number of households experiencing fuel poverty is rising due to energy costs increasing, incomes dropping, homes being built inefficiently, and homes not being retrofit to prevent heat loss.
This winter, almost half a million Britons could be plunged into fuel poverty this winter as energy costs increase another 12 per cent in addition to the 9 per cent increase that happened last April.
A toll on lives and taxes
Even in relatively mild winters, there are around 8,000 extra deaths for every one-degree drop in average temperature due to fuel poverty. In the past four years, 117,000 people have died needlessly as a result.
Research from National Energy Action shows that nationally, cold homes cost the NHS £3.6m per day, and in the past four years alone over £5bn of taxpayers’ money.
What are the solutions?
Retrofitting Council Housing
In council housing, one of the best examples of this functioning in a way that empowers community members, while simultaneously powering their homes, is Repowering London and Brixton Energy Solar Cooperatives. Where the retrofit is paid for by the energy companies through the ECO scheme, and excess energy produced through solar panels on public housing roofs is sold back to the grid, and the funds earned from the feedback tariff are given back to the community, to be spent on what the community feels it needs.
Green New Builds
In addition, any new builds should meet Passivhaus (or equivalent-ish, Passivhaus is just a brand) standard which uses 90% less energy for heating than the average home – saving people money while also saving the environment.
Community Mutual Aide Retrofits
If you own your own home, Architect Bill Dunster suggests a combined effort of creating community access to a ‘Library of Things‘ with a local shared tool bank including 3D printing combined with free software and training sessions to empower the local community to upskill and green up their homes. Think a Haynes Manual for green housing.
Bill Dunster believes we can break the loop and bypass the ‘contractor cowboys’ by going back to the first principles and democratizing the technology and physical opportunity of doing the work. Rather than relying on the confines of racial capitalism to solve problems with the same tools that created it.