6 Ways to fight fuel poverty
The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe. A home built in 1960 loses three times more heat than one built today. That explains why Sweden, which has invested in energy efficiency and home insulation, experience fuel poverty less severely, despite being far colder. Our draughty homes are wasting our money and our energy. We need generous public investment in energy efficiency and insulation to keep our homes warm. Given that energy company profits are five times higher now than four years ago, don’t tell us that there isn’t the money for this.
2) Clean energy
The main factor behind rising energy bills is the rising cost of polluting forms of energy like gas and oil. The rising cost of gas accounted for around 60 per cent of the £360 increase in the average energy bill over the past decade. The only way to bring bills down for good is a rapid shift from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy, generated from the sun, the wind and the waves. The price of renewable technology is quickly falling and once the upfront investment has been made, costs are minimal.
3) Public and community ownership
The Big Six energy companies are lobbying against cheap, clean energy because more dirty and expensive fossil fuel energy is better for their profits. That’s why the Big Six have to go – they will always prioritise their profits over our rights. If we want warm homes, lower bills and clean, affordable energy, we need to take energy out of private hands. Across the world, from Hamburg, Germany to Boulder, Colorado, towns and cities are buying back their energy grids from private companies and establishing local public companies, which pledge to lower prices and shift to renewable energy. Throughout the UK, communities are leaving behind the Big Six to set up local wind and solar co-operatives. These forms of community and public ownership can bring down the bills, tackle climate change and deliver real power to the people.
4) Boost incomes
A key reason for rising levels of fuel poverty is that people have simply got less money in their pockets. Real wages are declining and benefits are being slashed, leaving millions of us facing fatal ‘heat or eat’ choices. Meanwhile, Big Six profits continue to rise, year on year, amid allegations of tax avoidance and market manipulation. Austerity cuts and poverty wages are not necessary, they’re a result of political choices to prioritise the rich and powerful above the rest of us. The money’s there for measures like a statutory living wage and more generous benefits, which would tackle inequalities and help us heat our homes.
5) Fair pricing
Under the current pricing system, the more energy you use, the cheaper it gets. This means that those with the lowest incomes pay the most for their energy, because they use the least, while the luxury consumption of the rich is subsidised by the rest of us. A fair pricing system would reverse this, making the first units of energy used cheap or even free, with prices increasing as usage increases. This would decrease the costs of meeting basic energy needs of heating, lighting and cooking, recognising that these needs should be regarded as universal rights.
6) Ending meter injustice
Energy companies get around their obligation not to disconnect ‘vulnerable’ customers by forcing people onto prepayment meters, which mean that when you can’t afford to pay, you have to disconnect yourself. This leaves people on prepayment meters as regularly without energy access, while meter customers pay an average of £80 a year more than those who can afford to pay by direct debit. What’s worse, it is common practice for energy companies to break into people’s homes to install meters against their will. Fuel poverty will persist unless the injustice of prepayment meters is tackled. This does not mean abolishing prepayment meters, as some people find it helpful to pay this way. However, forced meter installation should be illegalised, with meters only being installed upon request. Further, meter customers must be charged the same as those paying by direct debit and the ‘standing charge’ paid by meter customers should be dropped.