Scandal of fuel poverty in Westcountry
Campaigners have called on the Government to reinvest energy taxes to tackle the "scandal" of fuel poverty with thousands more Westcountry homes facing hardship in the wake of hikes in gas and electricity bills.
Figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change for 2010 show there were 126,053 households classed as being in fuel poverty – where more than 10% of income is spent on heat and power – compared to 164,457 in 2009.
However, the figures are expected to increase significantly this year because of rising bills, with projections that the total in England will reach 3.9 million households, up by 400,000.
In the Westcountry around one-in-five are regarded as being in fuel poverty with the highest rate of 21.3% being recorded in the Torridge and West Devon parliamentary constituency.
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The St Ives constituency in Cornwall was next with 8,147 – or 21.3% – of people struggling to pay their bills.
The Energy Bill Revolution campaign – an alliance of more than 80 leading charities, unions, consumer groups and businesses – is calling for the Government to recycle the taxes charged on fuel bills into a major new insulation scheme to help cut bills.
Ed Matthew, director of Transform UK, the organisation which is coordinating the campaign, said: "It is scandalous that anyone in a developed country should face the choice of whether to buy food or heat their home.
"From next year the Government will have the money to end the blight of fuel poverty. This is the most fair and just solution."
The group said from 2013, the Government would raise an annual £4 billion from taxes from the European Emissions Trading Scheme and the Carbon Floor Price.
The cash was enough to bring nine-out-of-ten homes out of fuel poverty, quadruple carbon emissions savings compared to the Government's new energy efficiency policies, and create up to 200,000 more jobs. Cornish MPs – Liberal Democrats Andrew George and Dan Rogerson – are among 135 MPs to back the campaign, adding their names to an Early Day Motion to "reduce fuel bills through energy efficiency".
"We can look at competition in the market place and doing deals with the energy companies to be more transparent on pricing and helping people to switch," MP for North Cornwall Mr Rogerson said.
"But the cost of fossil fuels is only going to go up in the long term and we need to reduce the amount of energy people are using."
Mr Rogerson said he welcomed the Government's Green Deal home energy efficiency programme but added "that's not to say that the Government couldn't do more to recognise the issue, particularly in rural areas, and that is why I am supporting the campaign to keep the pressure on."
The Department for Energy and Climate Change's (DECC) annual report said the reduction in fuel poverty from 2009 to 2010 was caused by three main factors – rising incomes, an increase in the installation of more efficient boilers and small rises in domestic energy prices.
The problem is particularly acute in the North West and West Midlands. Nearly 30% of homes in North Herefordshire are in fuel poverty, the highest proportion in the country.
Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said fuel poverty remained "a serious national problem and the Coalition is absolutely committed to tackling it".
Yesterday, a DECC spokesman said: "We already have an extensive programme of policies designed to tackle energy efficiency and fuel poverty, including subsidies for the poorest, paid for by suppliers.
"Energy policies are already benefiting from direct funding from the Exchequer, including £860 million for the renewable heat incentive helping people who are off the gas grid, and £200 million for Green Deal start up."