800,000 People ‘Lifted’ Out Of Fuel Poverty – By Redefining It

  • Date: 02/12/13
  • Tom Bawden, The Independent

The Government is attempting to manipulate official figures to bring down fuel poverty, it is claimed today.

A clause in the Energy Bill will change the definition of the key poverty indicator, reducing the number of English households counted as “fuel-poor” from 3.2 million to 2.4 million overnight.

The new definition, which could come into force before Christmas, will instantly reduce the percentage of fuel-poor households in England by nearly a third, from 15 per cent to 11 per cent, according to calculations by MPs on the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

“The Government is shifting the goalposts on fuel poverty so that official statistics record far fewer households as fuel-poor,” said the committee’s chair, Joan Walley MP. “The changes to the fuel-poverty definition and target should be stopped unless the Government is prepared to make a public commitment to end fuel poverty altogether.”

Currently, fuel poverty refers to those households that need to spend more than 10 per cent of their income on fuel “to maintain an adequate level of warmth”. But under the new definition, contained in the Government’s forthcoming Energy Bill, which could be passed by the end of the year, it will apply only to households which need to spend more than average on fuel to keep warm and who would be left with “a residual income below the official poverty line” if they did.

According to Simon Fiander, who helped to draft the EAC report published today, the new definition will dramatically reduce the number of people in fuel poverty because it excludes anybody who needs to spend less than average on energy to keep warm – as many poorer households do because they are often smaller.

The Government has characterised the definition change as an attempt to “improve the energy efficiency of the homes of the fuel-poor”. The Energy minister, Michael Fallon, told Parliament in October that the new measure had the advantage of not just addressing the proportion of income needed for energy bills, but also the level of households’ wealth or poverty.

Full story