Moving the goalposts on fuel poverty

by New Worker correspondent

THE PARLIAMENTARY Environmental Audit Committee last week accused the Government of “shifting the goalposts” by changing the definition of fuel poverty to reduce the number of households in England classed as being in fuel poverty from 3.2 million to 2.4 million.

The committee says this is unacceptable but the Government claims the changes are “to get a better understanding of the causes and depth of fuel poverty”.

The cross-party committee’s report said families were currently classed as fuel poor if they spent more than 10 per cent of income on fuel “to maintain an adequate level of warmth”.

Under the new definition, families would only be deemed to be in hardship if they had “above average fuel costs” leaving them with “a residual income below the official poverty line”.

Joan Walley, who chairs the committee, said “The Government is shifting the goalposts on fuel poverty so that official statistics record far fewer households as fuel poor.

“The changes to the fuel poverty definition and target, in part being made through amendments to the Energy Bill, should be stopped unless the Government is prepared to make a public commitment to end fuel poverty altogether.”

She also warned that “a shortterm bid to cut bills must not throw energy and climate change policy off-course”.

Walley was commenting on a plan to reduce energy bills for households by an average of £50-a-year, money that will not come from the private fuel companies’ enormous profits but ultimately from tax-payers.

Chancellor George Osborne last Saturday outlined proposals to reduce energy bills by an average of £50 a year in an effort to offset rising costs.

He said the Government would pay for some measures — the green energy levies which fund development of renewable energy sources — currently included in people’s bills and the cost of insulating homes would be spread over a longer period.

But Walley said the plan could end up making things worse for fuel-poor households.

“In the longer term, green levies could actually keep bills down if they drive energy efficiency improvements that cut the cost of heating our homes.

“Insulating homes and supporting green technologies is vital to help the fuel poor and cut the emissions causing climate change.”

Meanwhile NPower, one of the giant six energy companies, last week confirmed it is to make 1,460 staff redundant.

The German-owned company will cut jobs including checking meter readings against bills.

Chief executive Paul Massara said: “This restructure is necessary if we are to deliver the levels of service our customers deserve.”

It is not clear how service quality will be improved by sending these functions offshore, but the company will now use staff in India to deliver them.

NPower currently employs 9,600 people in Britain. In addition to the job cuts, 560 staff will be transferred to multiservice company Capita.

Although their existing employment rights are protected, new staff taken on to deliver under this contract may have worse pay and conditions imposed on them.

The majority of job losses will take place in Stoke-on-Trent, Oldbury and Rainton Bridge in Sunderland, while some will also be lost in Leeds.

Last month NPower announced it was raising prices by more than 10 per cent.