Major policy changes are taking place in the welfare system, with greater restrictions on access and downward pressure on payments. In parallel, the government is reducing funding for measures targeted at alleviating or eradicating fuel poverty and placing an increased responsibility on energy suppliers to tackle the problem. People with disabilities are identified as vulnerable to fuel poverty, but the interactions between policy on energy and welfare reform, disability and experiences of fuel poverty are poorly understood. This research aimed to redress this evidence gap.
Key research Question
The research aimed to build an overview of the evidence on disability and its relationship to fuel poverty with a view to identifying the potential lessons for policy and practice.
Summary of activity
A literature review of research on fuel poverty and disabled people, including ‘grey’ literature from charities and news articles, was undertaken. In terms of data generation, semi-structured qualitative interviews were completed with 19 households containing disabled adults and/or children and 16 stakeholders whose work involved fuel poverty and vulnerable communities (based in the energy sector, local authorities and third sector organisations). The research also involved a statistical analysis of secondary data from the English Housing Survey (EHS).
The analysis of the EHS indicates that a higher proportion of households that included people with disabilities than those that did not were fuel poor. However, this was not uniform. Certain subgroups were more vulnerable than others, and this status was affected by tenure, location and disability type. Particular conditions required greater energy consumption and expenditure.
Changes in welfare benefits and cuts in local housing services were exacerbating fuel poverty, with less discretionary help available. Short-term funding ‘fixes’ did not address long-term needs.
The true picture is complicated by the various income-based indicators used to assess fuel poverty. Nonetheless, according to all calculation models, this was highest in the private rented sector.
The interviews suggested that working intensively at a local level to identify households in fuel poverty was key, and the health sector should play a central role in mobilising assistance (e.g. Energy Efficiency on Prescription).
Both statistical and qualitative data revealed a disparity between fuel poverty support and areas of greatest need, which was partly created by the eligibility criteria used to grant access to assistance.
Government and regulatory agencies must ensure that their policies satisfactorily take account of and respond to the diverse requirements of people with disabilities with regard to not only fuel poverty but also related areas such as health and social care.
The presence of a resident with a disability should automatically entitle a household to membership of the Warm Home Discount Scheme ‘core group’ and Energy Company Obligation Affordable Warmth group.
The state of private sector housing provision for people with disabilities should be urgently reviewed, and necessary improvement actions should be undertaken.
Fuel poverty calculations should not regard disability benefits as disposable income.