The debate, which took part in Westminster Hall and was led by Drew Hendry MP, comes ahead of today’s Autumn Statement where the chancellor is expected to set out further reforms to the welfare system. It also coincides with new research released by Turn2us showing that 81% think that the government should do more to tackle the issue.
In his opening remarks, Hendry commented: “67% of people with disabilities are already signalling struggles. Tomorrow, the Chancellor will set out Government proposals for spending and there is an opportunity to take action on poverty… Fuel poverty is a thief. It creeps into homes virtually unnoticed. It steals into people’s lives, begins taking people’s health, starts stripping them of their dignity and forces them to make choices that none of us would want to face. It makes its mark over years and months, often with the victim unaware of its progress in the first instance until the bills start hitting the mat”.
No Cold Homes campaign
Last week Turn2us launched the No Cold Homes campaign to help support those struggling to keep their home warm. Citing research released as part of the campaign, Hendry continued, “Of the people who are already struggling, nearly half have been struggling for more than a year, only 12% - there is a big communication job to be done - have told their energy supplier and only 5% have sought advice from a supporting organisation.”
Dr Dan Poulter MP's comments
Also contributing to the debate was Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter who discussed how greater fuel efficiency could help. He said: “We should recognise that there are 6 million households with a low income that have an energy efficiency of band D or lower, but as of July 2015 only 1.6 million energy efficiency measures had been installed in about 1.3 million of those homes. There are still many more homes in fuel poverty that we need to help and many more people in those homes who need help to reduce their energy bills and to ensure that they can make ends meet.”
Ian Blackford MP's comments
“Research by Turn2us graphically shows the kind of challenges that those in fuel poverty face,” responded Ian Blackford (SNP Ross, Skye and Lochaber). “The research found that one in two low-income households struggle to afford their energy costs, despite being in work. Those are people who will be disadvantaged by the cuts to tax credits that my hon. friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey mentioned. Turn2us states:
“Amongst the hardest hit are people with disabilities, with over two in three (67%) reporting their struggles, and families, with almost two-thirds of working parents (65%) unable to meet these costs. Worryingly, of those households who are struggling with energy costs, nearly half (48%) have done so for more than a year” - this is a long-term, not a short-term, problem….The knock-on effect is severe, with a third (33%) forced to skip meals and over a fifth (21%) experiencing stress and other mental health problems.
“Is it a price that we as a civilised society are prepared to pay, that people in this country have to make the choice between food and fuel? There is something wrong with our country if that is the case.
“Some of the comments made by people who participated in the Turn2us survey are stark. They include: 'The bills are killing me, sometimes I have to contemplate paying all the rent or heating my home'; 'There are many pensioners like myself who don’t qualify for any help but still have to decide whether to eat or heat'; “We have stress, debt, arguments and a low mood at home'; 'Starve or freeze? Either way you get ill and can’t work, eat or pay any bills'; 'No lights, only candles, only hoover once a week, only use washing machine once a week, no heating, meals that cook quickly'. Those are the consequences of the high levels of fuel poverty we suffer from in this country.”
Andrea Leadsom MP's comments
Concluding, Department for Energy and Climate Change Minister Andrea Leadsom commented, “Members have mentioned energy prices for their constituents, particularly in Scotland. Our top priority is to keep bills down. This year, £57 million has been spent to protect bill payers in the north of Scotland from the high costs of distributing electricity. This represents a benefit of around £40 a year for each household in the north of Scotland.”
She continued: “More than 1.2 million households are seeing lower bills due to energy efficiency improvements through the ECO. We are committed to ensuring that a million more get the same benefits by the end of this Parliament. But as the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) said last week, we are determined that the support available will be focused on those who need it most.”
Find out more about the fuel poverty debate
You can read the full transcript of the fuel poverty debate (24 November) at the Parliament UK website
Find out more about the No Cold Homes campaign