UK Fuel Poverty: Green Energy Policies Partly To Blame

  • Date: 04/01/14
  • Marlo Lewis,

Today’s Climatewire (subscription required) reports that in the UK last year, “more than 30,000 winter deaths were thought to be caused by fuel poverty, up by a third from the previous year, according to the Office for National Statistics.”

What makes fuel poverty deadly? “Poor heating and a lack of insulation are known to increase the likelihood of strokes in the elderly and to exacerbate asthma and rheumatic disease in all age groups,” explains Climatewire correspondent Erica Rex.

Until last month, UK law defined fuel poverty as a household that spends more than 10% of its income “to maintain an adequate level of warmth.” The law now defines it as ”above average fuel costs” that leave households with “a residual income below the official poverty line.” That seems obfuscatory. Implicitly excluded from the revised definition are households that can’t afford to heat their homes because of high average fuel costs.

As Rex notes, the redefinition instantly reduced the official tally of fuel poor in the UK from 3.2 million to 2.4 million, or from 15% to 11%. The reclassification does not mitigate the hardship of people like “Gemma,” a single mother of three interviewed for the article, who skips meals “just to keep the heating on.”

Regardless of how fuel poverty is defined, the issue is heating up, partly because Britain is facing the worst winter in 60 years, but also because government policies mandate increasing reliance on renewable energy.

According to Department of Energy and Climate Change figures, so-called green policies account for “only” 10% of the UK heating bill. On the other hand, DECC projects those policies to increase electricity prices 33% by 2020 and 41% by 2030.

Although commonly associated with the UK and Ireland, fuel poverty is more pervasive. The map below shows the percentage of European households that cannot afford to keep their homes adequately warm.


High energy prices contribute to fuel poverty, but the main cause is low income. Poor households are more likely to be late paying their utility bills and to experience disconnection. The map below shows the percentage of Europeans in arrears on their utility bills.

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