The success of programmes designed to improve energy efficiency and address fuel poverty can depend to a large extent on the ability of beneficiaries to comprehend the information being presented to them. As a significant segment of the UK population possess only very limited literacy and numeracy skills, there is a risk that many people are not being reached by much of the promotional literature, energy advice, operating instructions and other relevant material provided as part of fuel poverty and energy efficiency initiatives.
Key research Question
To examine the current evidence base and policy frameworks concerning a) literacy and numeracy and b) social exclusion/multiple deprivation in order to determine the implications for work to alleviate fuel poverty and promote energy efficiency. The resulting analysis is intended to identify gaps in knowledge and allow research funders to identify new priorities.
Summary of activity
The author conducted a review of recent literature and web-based initiatives relating to literacy, numeracy, social exclusion and multiple access deprivation in the UK, with a particular focus on resources with potential relevance to fuel poverty and energy efficiency. Further data were collected via approximately ten telephone interviews with policy-makers, researchers and other stakeholders in organisations working in these fields to understand their current and future projects, including any extant or planned research.
The literature search concluded that energy-related issues were not an overt priority for the main skills agencies. No strategic link existed between the two agendas. There had been a few examinations of the relationship between poor literacy and numeracy and fuel poverty/energy efficiency programmes, but these had been undertaken by energy charities (EAGA Charitable Trust [CT], the Association for the Conservation of Energy and National Energy Action [NEA]), not education and skills agencies. Similarly, there was a paucity of research on the impact of multiple access deprivation on fuel poverty.
Some learning resources on fuel issues had been designed to be used as course materials on basic skills learning, targeting specific groups such as care leavers, refugees and individuals with learning disabilities. Again, these were mainly developed by energy charities (EAGA CT and NEA), not education and skills agencies. However, the knowledge and expertise of the latter will be vital to future fuel poverty/energy efficiency work, especially specific projects focused on improving basic skills.
Regarding literacy and numeracy, the findings with the greatest relevance for energy-related work included the extra challenges faced by people with English as a second language and low literacy, the disproportionate number of low-skilled people in rented housing and the exclusion of people with disabilities, especially those with visual impairments and learning disabilities, from basic skills opportunities.
The report lists ten gaps in research, which should inform the future direction of EAGA CT’s programme. These include the absence of data on literacy and numeracy among the over-65 age group, the effects of poor literacy and numeracy on the success of fuel poverty/energy efficiency programmes and the links between multiple access deprivation and fuel poverty (with specific reference to BME communities and those for whom English is not a first language).