News North Wales reported recently that Mold Citizen’s Advice has seen a 15 percent increase in calls relating to fuel poverty in the last year. This was further re-enforced by a report in Calculator.co.uk that a recent CAB survey found 54% of Welsh households plan to reduce spending to cope with rising energy bills and that one in five had stopped using some rooms in their homes to cut energy usage.
Why is Fuel Poverty a Particular Problem in Wales?
When you start to look at the situation in Wales, some of the reasons for this shocking data are apparent. A Consumer Focus off-gas study did find that Wales at 79 percent does have a lower number of households on mains gas in comparison with England at 84 percent. So, this means a larger percentage of the population are reliant on other forms of fuel such as oil and LPG for heating which are typically more expensive than gas. This is highlighted by the fact that heating oil is the second most popular form of heating fuel in Wales.
Another interesting statistic that came out of the Consumer Focus analysis was that Wales has the highest percentage of homes with solid walls when compared with Scotland and England. This is relevant as homes with solid walls are some of the most inefficient housing stock. It is estimated by The Energy Saving Trust that solid walls let through twice as much heat as cavity walls.
Overall, the energy rating of homes is also poorer in Wales. The Consumer Focus study shows that homes in the F and G rating i.e. the most inefficient are higher than in England and Scotland.
Impact on the Elderly in Wales
The impact of ever increasing energy prices has had a big impact on Wales with Walesonline.co.uk reporting that Graeme Francis, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Age Cymru said “Fuel poverty is a major challenge for many older people across Wales and figures from last winter show that 1700 people over the age of 65 actually died from cold related conditions.” Hardly surprising when you realise that the annual report on fuel poverty statistics for 2013 reported that 29% of the Welsh population were suffering from fuel poverty.
What Action is Being Taken in Wales?
The Welsh Government has already made a start in trying to improve the energy efficiency of homes in Wales. Walesonline.co.uk reported that by the end of March 2014, the Welsh Government has projected that their energy efficiency programme will have reduced bills for approximately 8000 homes across Wales. Add to this an investment of £36 million in 2014 and a further £70 million over the next two years and it appears the government is taking steps to try and improve energy efficiency which, in the long run, is probably going to be the best way to reduce fuel poverty.
Labour MP, Albert Owen who represents Anglesey has emphasised the importance of getting more households connected to the gas grid in Wales. Whilst gas is the cheapest fuel to heat a home with, recent price increases have meant that the differential between gas and heating oil, the second most popular heating fuel in Wales, has dropped considerably. Heating oil prices have actually fallen over the last year according to OFTEC whereas gas prices have risen by 37 percent over the same period.
One other move that has been proposed regards the re-nationalisation of energy companies because Wales is actually a net exporter of energy. However, the Welsh Government has no powers in relation to this and, even if it did, there appears to be a realisation amongst Welsh MPs that re-nationalisation would be too expensive and it would require huge taxpayer subsidies. So whilst energy bills may be lower, people would be paying for this via general taxation.
More on this subject:
News North Wales reports on how soaring bills have pushed many into fuel poverty: http://www.newsnorthwales.co.uk/news/131735/soaring-energy-bills-plunge-many-into-fuel-poverty-chill.aspx
Consumer Focus information about off gas households: http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/files/2011/10/Off-gas-consumers.pdf