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ODI fuel poverty survey shows young adults most hard up

A fuel poverty data report and index from the Open Data Institute shows that young adults and people in multi-occupied accommodation are most at risk

The Open Data Institute (ODI) has published a report and an index showing the extent and depth of fuel poverty in England.

The report, Fuel poverty and data infrastructure, shows that households containing renters, young adults, large households, lone parents and those with young children are especially badly affected by the current cost-of-living crisis.

The report and an attendant index were published to coincide with the organisation’s Data Summit conference. It follows on from a similar ODI report into food poverty, which found that the North East of England and black families throughout the country are suffering the most.

Lisa Allen, director of data and services at the ODI, said: “Having an effective data infrastructure in place around fuel poverty would help to identify those who are in most need in a systematic way and could highlight the long-term benefits associated with adequate investment in efforts to tackle fuel poverty. In turn, this would assist government, charities and those households in need of assistance with bills or energy efficiency.

“It is important that this data is as up to date as possible, so that decisions can be made in a timely manner and across factors. This could help to decide which groups to target when offering support and how much investment in fuel poverty support is optimal given short- and long-term impacts.”

The fuel poverty risk index, which has been built using Tableau data visualisation software by Phil Rossiter, who works at a data consultancy Mime, brings 12 datasets together for the first time. The tool allows data to be compared nationally and at local authority level by government, councils, charities and energy companies.

The report defines those people who are unable to either heat or cool their dwellings to an “adequate temperature” as being in fuel poverty. It calculates a score that estimates the risk of someone being in fuel poverty for each local authority in England.

The ODI researchers found a large geographic variation among households in England. The West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber contain the highest proportion of households in fuel poverty (17.8% and 17.5%), while London and the South of England have lower rates (all below 12%). People in Blackpool have the highest potential for fuel poverty based on the fuel poverty risk index (62.9%).

The organisation’s plan is to update the index on an annual basis, meaning it should register the impact of the end of of universal help with bills in April 2023. The index is presently restricted to England, but the ODI hopes to include data from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in future editions.

The ODI data also shows that students and young people in multiple occupation accommodation are worse off than older people.

Students have been telling us in their thousands that they are worried about choosing between heating and eating
Chloe Field, National Union of Students

In the statement accompanying the report and index, Chloe Field, vice-president of higher education at the National Union of Students, said: “It is sadly no surprise that these findings show many students are at significant risk of fuel poverty this winter.

“Students have been telling us in their thousands that they are worried about choosing between heating and eating – and our own research has shown that the combined cost of rent and bills is the number one pressure on students’ budgets right now. 

“Students are also uniquely constrained by hours spent studying, or by visa restrictions, in their ability to take on more work and increase their incomes,” she added.

On behalf of young workers who rent, Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of campaigning organisation Generation Rent, said: “Private renters are particularly vulnerable to fuel poverty, because neither they nor their landlords have enough incentive to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

“Most landlords don’t get the benefit of lower bills, while tenants eligible for grants have no guarantee that they can stay in their home for the long term. To bring renters out of fuel poverty, we need higher minimum standards for the energy efficiency of private rented homes and better security of tenure.”

The research also found that 26.5% of all lone parent families are at risk of fuel poverty, which is twice the national average. People who use prepayment meters are also more likely to be in fuel poverty, with 30.6% of households using prepay electricity meters and 27% of households using gas prepayment in fuel poverty.

Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, which is also part of the Warm This Winter campaign, said: “Fuel poverty is a public health emergency this winter and this report shows the areas of the country that are suffering the most.

“Those areas of the country where energy use is high, poverty and ill health commonplace, and where there is a lack of mitigating energy efficiency measures in place, are in the eye of the storm.

“The better use of data could, for example, help planning for surges in demand on the NHS as people who are elderly, disabled or with pre-existing health conditions suffer from the complications of living in a cold, damp home.”

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