Founder member called to parliament as fuel poverty expert

Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and a Campaign Collective founder member, told the Commons Energy Security and Net Zero Committee yesterday that estimates suggested that there were 4,706 excess winter deaths over 2022 to 2023 caused by living in a cold damp home in England, Scotland and Wales, up from 3,186 the winter before.

The figures were presented to MPs at the committee’s inquiry into Government preparations for winter.

At the same time, a report card by the Warm This Winter campaign on the Government’s progress against 8 key measures to tackle the energy bills crisis, has revealed that on half of these measures Ministers are making no progress.

The report card shows that on 3 measures rapid progress is needed, but on one measure, the Government has actually gone backwards, by taking steps that will deepen the country’s reliance on expensive fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, mounting evidence suggests that a new class system is emerging in Britain, based on access to energy.

Fewer than 5m of the UK’s 28m households could be classed as being in the “energy elite” and unaffected by the current energy bills crisis. Around 8m have to borrow money to pay their energy bills and over 1m have disconnected for periods this year.

The rest of the population are also subject to high energy bills, which have doubled in the last three years. Among this wider group, people have used up savings and cut back on essentials to keep the lights and heat on. With winter approaching and the cost of living crisis continuing, the ability of people to pay sky high energy costs is severely diminished.

Speaking to the Committee, Simon Francis said: “The signs are that people are going to be struggling more in cold, damp homes this winter.

“Essentially though what we end up with is a situation where we have to hope we have a mild winter, and I don’t think that households around the country would really accept that as being acceptable. They are expected to just hope that it’s mild and hope that they’re not going to suffer greatly as a result of the conditions they live in.”

National Energy Action chief executive Adam Scorer added: “Whether they like it or not, Government is going to have to come up with a package of financial support for energy bills for the most vulnerable this year.

“The level of energy debt is so extreme now, and it is destroying lives, that we have to have a mechanism, a help to repay scheme, that helps people to accelerate their way out of energy debt.

“We cannot get back on an even keel with a good way forward of dealing with energy affordability without tackling the 70% increase in energy debt from 2020 to 2023.”

The health implications of living in cold damp homes are severe. In addition to contributing to excess winter deaths, existing medical conditions are made worse and a new pan-European study found that two-thirds of people in fuel poverty experience debilitating depression or anxiety.

Asked for “recommendations this committee can put in its report to government before this winter so that we can get it right”, Gillian Cooper, head of energy at Citizens Advice, said it continued to be difficult to identify those who were the most vulnerable, and commented:

“We do think we need to introduce some form of social tariff, targeted price support. We think it needs to be something that varies depending on household income and the energy efficiency of their home.

“The challenge that we always come back to is the data matching questions. We can’t unlock any of the benefits that this system would deliver unless we’ve got better data matching.

She added: “And it needs to be taxpayer-funded. If we want to deliver meaningful support to people we cannot socialise it through energy bills because the costs of that will be too significant for many other households.

“It could push other households into fuel poverty. So it needs to be taxpayer-funded if we really want this to work and be a sustainable system for people in the coming years.”