Eaga Charitable Trust is a major funder of research on different aspects of fuel poverty. In order to ensure that its grants are focused where research is most needed and will have the most impact on knowledge and poverty, the Trust sought to finalise an evidence-based strategic plan.
The Trust had commissioned two scoping studies (Beck, Richardson and Sefton, 2004; Lennard, 2004), which made outline proposals for the direction of future research. In 2005, the Trust invited stakeholders to a round-table discussion on its future priorities, including representatives from academia, the energy industry, the basic skills sector and other relevant fields. The event offered an opportunity to discuss the proposals outlined in the scoping studies and propose other issues.
Key research Question
The report aims to provide an overview of the proposals for future research topics as discussed at the presentations, plenary sessions and other events at the round table. This includes a summary of the key themes of the scoping studies published ahead of the round table, as well as reviews of current knowledge and practice.
The main findings and conclusions of the two scoping studies were presented. Existing research assumes that there is a link between basic skills and fuel poverty, but, while there appears to be a considerable overlap, a causal link has not been proven. Of the large number of basic skills programmes operating in the UK, very few have been studied to assess the relationship between basic skills and fuel poverty. Evidence from the basic skills field suggests there are many misconceptions about adults with poor basic skills, but they are at risk of unemployment and worse health. The rise of online services and the decline in face-to-face contact may also disadvantage this group.
Other presentations highlighted the ongoing problems with official definitions of fuel poverty, the relationship between low income and fuel poverty and the unsuitability of much energy advice for those with literacy, numeracy and language problems. Nonetheless, there are examples of good practice that are not being promoted, and much can be learned from other programmes designed to tackle exclusion such as the Financial Inclusion Taskforce.
The report lists three broad themes for future research:
Vulnerable consumers, multiple needs and preferences;
Delivering services to vulnerable consumers and partnership working;
Linking fuel poverty to wider agendas.
Within each of these themes, a number of specific research questions are proposed, such as what are effective communication and marketing techniques (especially for those with basic skills), what are the real and perceived barriers to accessing help, what role could integrated service provision play, which community-led projects have proved effective, what causal links exist between fuel poverty, communication and access issues, how effective is the current government approach in reducing fuel poverty and how does fuel poverty fit into the wider social inclusion agenda?