Although there is a substantial literature on different aspects of fuel poverty, studies that have investigated the experiences of people with a learning disability, the factors placing them at risk and the issues shaping their needs and behaviours are extremely rare, despite the evidence this group is highly vulnerable. When this project was commissioned, there had been no studies that used participatory techniques to generate research from the perspective of people with a learning disability.
The project aimed to generate a much better understanding of these factors and assess the level of fuel poverty risk faced by households that include someone with a learning disability. it also sought to identify potential ways to address these risks.
(Full list of authors: Jodie Bradley, Melanie Chapman, Chris Damm, Vicky Farnsworth Annie Ferguson, Jan Gilbertson, Alison Owen, Bernard Stafford, Beth Taylor, Angela Tod and Dan Wolstenholme)
Summary of activity
A mixed methods approach involving three phases. The project used a ‘co-researcher model’ recruiting people with learning disabilities to the research team. Delivery was guided by a Reference Group of Adults with a Learning Disability (AWLD) from a third sector organisation in Yorkshire some of whom were also researchers on the project. A Project Advisory Group comprised a mix of academics and research team members.
Phase 1 was a quantitative secondary analysis of data from the the Understanding Society Survey (USS) 2014-2015 and the English Housing Survey (EHS) 2013. Data was used to estimate levels of fuel poverty among households where one or more adults had a learning disability, as compared to a) households where adult residents recorded other categories of disability and b) all households.
In Phase 2, qualitative data was collected via semi-structured interviews. These were carried out with 10 households that included one or more adult with a learning disability (AWLD). In parallel, temperature data was recorded from each property and deprivation indicators were used to provide a local context.
Phase 3 used co-production techniques to develop two community workshops attended by seventeen people from stakeholder groups. Participants were asked to suggest ways fuel poverty could be prevented or mitigated. These recommendations formed the basis of a design challenge for students at Sheffield Hallam University, who were tasked with turning the ideas into research proposals.
Findings were generated from each phase of research. The analysis of survey data (Phase 1) indicated that people with a learning disability in private housing were at far greater risk than either of the comparator groups on both the metrics used in the EHS (The Low Income High Costs indicator) and that used in the Understanding Society Survey - although the LIHC measurements suggested the risk was considerably greater than those employed in the USS.
The data from the interviews (Phase 2) could be grouped under three themes: energy need; emotions, attitudes and values; and knowledge and experience. The evidence generated numerous specific findings including:
The co-produced workshops and the subsequent student research projects (Phase 3) proposed a number of solutions. These included better communication and training, more awareness of fuel companies’ Priority Service Registers (PSR). Innovative technological solutions were also proposed.
Separate recommendations for practice, policy and research were devised.