The eradication of fuel poverty by 2016-18 is both a major objective of UK energy policy and a legal obligation. The Government has confirmed the importance of this task through the development of a Fuel Poverty Strategy with associated indicators.
The causes and evidence of fuel poverty are multi-faceted and range from the energy efficiency of the housing stock, household income levels and the effect of fuel pricing mechanisms, to the extent of excess winter deaths, cold related illness, fuel debt and disconnection from supply. As a result, formal academic study of fuel poverty is based in a wide spread of institutions and disciplines throughout the UK and includes the wider community working on related issues such as poverty, social exclusion, environmental and social justice.
The net effect is a collection of initiatives, all individually important, but poorly co-ordinated. This means that the full benefits of the research are unlikely to be obtained, that synergies are lost and the potential for overlap and duplication is exacerbated. As a result, policy is weaker and the identification of practical solutions is delayed.
In order to address these issues, the ECI, in collaboration with National Energy Action (NEA), was awarded an ESRC grant to undertake a scoping study to determine how to maximise the focus and influence of research into fuel poverty. This would involve capturing research findings across the range of disciplines and channelling outcomes into constructive policy-making by the Government, as well as possibly commissioning and undertaking research.
The scoping study aims were to:
A survey of key stakeholders in the field of fuel poverty was conducted during April, with the aim of gathering views and input on the need for and role of a Fuel Poverty Research Centre for the UK. Over 60 responses were received. A list of the people who were sent the questionnaire is available:
A one-day workshop was held in Oxford on 28th June 2005 to discuss the possible role and institutional arrangement of a Fuel Poverty Research Centre. Over 30 people attended, including academics from a range of disciplines, campaigners, practitioners and Government representatives. Discussion focused on potential research themes, Centre structure and function, and options for funding, with a mix of breakout groups and plenary sessions. The debate provided many useful inputs that were incorporated into the final scoping study report.
The final scoping study report was submitted to the ESRC at the end of July 2005.