Fuel Poverty and Climate Change: Real Stories, Mental Health and Behavioural Change

Hope for the Future had the privilege of joining the Fuel Poverty Research Network (FPRN) at Scottish Parliament to learn more about how the latest academic research is informing current policy on fuel poverty and housing insulation standards.

Dr Aimee Ambrose presents her findings on housing efficiency in rented properties. (Photo credit: Alice Restrict). 

Dr Aimee Ambrose presents her findings on housing efficiency in rented properties. (Photo credit: Alice Restrict). 

The Scottish Government missed its target to eradicate fuel poverty by November 2016 with numbers of those living in fuel poverty remaining at similar figures to those before the target was set. Both researchers and politicians present questioned why there had been such little improvement, despite various measures by the Government to address the problem- is research pointing policy makers towards real solutions? Are politicians using research evidence to inform their policy decisions?

Citizen’s Advice Scotland offers support to those living in fuel poverty and speculated on whether fuel poverty measures’ lack of impact had contributed to the Treasury’s decision to reduce support for tackling the problem. Research that evidences how fuel poverty should be defined, how it should be measured and how measures are implemented, is therefore essential.

With clear parallels between fuel poverty, improved housing energy efficiency and the potential of renewable energy to stabilise and cheapen our energy supply, there are many cross overs between fuel poverty and climate change. How can we as climate campaigners work together with those concerned about fuel poverty to further both of agendas?

It may be that your MP has little-to-no concern about climate change, but who may show real interest in fuel poverty as an issue that can be seen to directly impact on constituents, and which lacks the political controversy of climate policy. Encouraging your MP to tackle fuel poverty is a good first step in encouraging them to take action on climate change.

So, what issues might you raise with your MP? Well, there were three key themes that emerged from the conference;

1.      It’s no good just tackling fuel prices, housing insulation and household income alone. Tackling fuel poverty also involves supporting people in how to use newly installed efficiency measures (such as a new boiler, solar panels or central heating) in order to get the very best out of them. We need better support for behavioural change that leads to more efficient use of energy, saving money for lower income families and reducing their carbon footprint.

Hope for the Future Director, Jo Musker-Sherwood, presenting our recent MP Communications Findings.

Hope for the Future Director, Jo Musker-Sherwood, presenting our recent MP Communications Findings.

2.      The mental health side effects of fuel poverty are becoming clearer as cold homes are shown to lead to greater social isolation, and troubles paying fuel bills to increased stress levels. The mental health impacts of fuel poverty often present themselves quicker than the physical health impacts. By tackling fuel poverty, we can reduce strain on the NHS, alleviate thousands of people from living in cold, damp homes, and make steps towards tackling the UK emissions.

3.      Data and statistics can skew the stories of the real people living in fuel poverty. Time and again we heard how individual circumstances could be overlooked by figure averages and flaws in fuel poverty definitions, leading to ill-fitting measures. Research by Scott Restrick for Energy Action Scotland, for example, showed that specific climate variations within the UK could add up to £600 onto peoples’ fuel bills, not to mention the variations in fuel prices throughout the UK. The individual stories of constituents are therefore an incredibly powerful tool in raising policy makers’ awareness of the issues surrounding fuel poverty.

Over the course of our time with the FPRN network, we realised what a vital role constituents can play in getting the most recent, leading academic research into the hands of policy makers. We as campaigners have a vital role to play in giving local MPs the mandate to take action. For more information about raising this issue with your MP, you can read our fuel poverty resources here, or find out more about FPRN’s research here.