Uncomfortable reading, for some

27th Apr 2020


Earlier this year, an innocuous answer on fuel poverty statistics was given to Parliament. It listed fuel poverty rates, in England, by parliamentary constituency. It was purely factual, no commentary. Being a bit of a numbers nerd, I had a delve into the figures and came up with some uncomfortable conclusions. Parts on the energy world may find these comments uncomfortable reading too.

Looking at those constituencies with fuel poverty rates above 15 per cent (that’s one in every seven homes), the top 45 were predominantly in the West Midlands and the North West, and in urban areas. Diving even deeper, some parts of these constituencies, “Lower Layer Super Output Areas”, which are groups of around 1500 people within that constituency, saw rates of over 50 per cent. That’s right, every other house was in fuel poverty.

These LSOAs had one thing in common, how they were described by statisticians. They all referred to a higher than average density of ethnic minority populations. 

So I checked the English average figures as a benchmark, and whilst fuel poverty for white households stood at 9.7 per cent, for ethnic minority households it was 20 per cent. All fuel poverty is something that should be addressed, but clearly something is failing in how it is done across all communities.

Now I have pointed this out before, but it is worth repeating, the biggest cause of fuel poverty is, no surprise, poverty – ie low incomes. This far outweighs the cost of energy consumed. Those in fuel poverty are by and large the same households that live in water poverty, in food poverty etc.

But it got me thinking, are fuel poverty schemes in England really geared up to deal with this ethnicity imbalance?

How are suppliers, charged with delivering ECO, ensuring they do so across all our communities? By removing IMD as an indicator to trigger action, has OFGEM helped or actually hindered, what is clearly a geographical problem? I don’t believe any part of our industry is “institutionally racist” but the figures suggest that something needs to be done to address this obvious and startling inequality.

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CEO