Owing to the content of both the posting title and of what follows I make it clear that I am introducing this posting very much in a “personal” capacity and not as an officer of the Forum. Sometimes there are issues which cause one to step aside from trying to be an even-handed and neutral representative: this is one such issue in my opinion. Which I now repeat – this is a personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Forum collectively or of any other officers of the Forum.
The news today (15th July) is that the number of households suffering from “fuel poverty” in the UK has risen by 1 million over the last year – up from 4½ to 5½ million. According to the reports, this total now represents one-in-five of all households: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/energy-price-rises-put-a-fifth-of-households-in-fuel-poverty-2314070.html and http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2011/jul/14/households-fuel-poverty-energy-prices and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14151032 By definition, as these are households, the actual number of people affected is significantly higher.
What is fuel poverty? Quite simply, it is defined as situations where the outgoings of a household for fuel are at least 10% of the household income. And note, these very disturbing figures are before the enormous increases in fuel prices (18% has been mentioned) which will be introduced soon and as have been advertised in the last few days by fuel suppliers.
The reports also note that over four-fifths of those who are subject to and suffer the consequences of fuel poverty are the more vulnerable in society, which includes the elderly.
Along with these news reports in the last few days, there has been the gross disingenuousness of the government through one of its ministers in claiming that fuel prices in the UK are amongst the lower end of such prices in Europe. Why “disingenuous”? Because, and not acknowledged by the government but referred to in at least one of today’s reports, the price of fuel has little to do with how much one actually has to pay to keep one’s household at comfortable levels for ordinary living. In simple terms, if the construction or similar features of a household, or the means of heating a household are energy-inefficient, one has to spend more on keeping the household (or parts of it) warm. And the government knows this is the case and knows, therefore, that the price of fuel has little to do with the underlying problem.
All of the above is not good news for the elderly. Higher levels of winter deaths amongst the elderly can be predicted. Which is the point: this consequence is predictable!
But what is the government proposing to do about it?
The government’s proposal is already on the table and has been for some months – it is proposing to reduce the Winter Fuel Payments! One is left to suppose that the government will move the goal-posts next – fuel poverty kicks in when households pay more than 20% (30%?, 40%?) of their income for fuel !