It has been a long wait for detail of how we tackle the UK’s dire fuel poverty problem. A new government strategy was published in January, with more revealed in the Autumn Statement and then Paris last week.
There is much ambition, and a list of long-term targets. The historic Paris agreement will require countries to limit their emissions, and the UK still plans to have dealt with our fuel poor homes by 2030.
But still, very little is known of the detail. The Autumn Statement set targets to improve 200,000 fuel poor homes per year, albeit with a continued fall in ECO investment. We remain in a woeful position in Europe, with only Estonia having a higher rate of fuel poverty. And the biggest single reason for poor energy efficiency is the quality of UK housing.
Across England, there are 2.3 million households living in fuel poverty. With Christmas approaching the number of winter deaths will give this unresolved problem the scrutiny it needs once again. Fuel poverty can only be reduced by focusing on the energy efficiency and energy bills of those in fuel poverty, especially low-income vulnerable households.
Greater detail is needed quickly for a number of reasons. Firstly, all major energy efficiency programmes only run until 2017, so we need to work out the best ways to maximise future investment.
Government investment over the next five years represents only half of what the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group felt was needed to meet 2030 targets, before it was disbanded this year. Others need to come together to meet this investment gap – investment from health, housing and environmental partners that will benefit financially from a country of warmer homes.
The energy efficiency market is seeing innovation coming from across the world, creating effective solutions that cost us less over the period of the long-term targets. We need to harness this new thinking to enable the UK to lead the way in energy efficiency.
And finally, families are being hit by the latest wave of welfare reform change, and tackling fuel poverty will put money back into the pockets of our poorest households.
We need to act now, with the development of delivery partnerships that are committed to tackling this issue, and bring investment and expertise. We need to deliver on the 2030 targets, not shift the goalposts, and deal with this issue now.