How COVID-19 has exacerbated fuel poverty in the UK

March 8, 2021
Electric meters

COVID-19 has exacerbated an already difficult situation for the fuel-poor. Consistent access to warm housing and electricity—a basic need—can be challenging for households with low incomes and high energy bills. Although decreasing year-on-year, fuel poverty is estimated to still affect four million households in the UK, around 14% of all households. Left unsupported, vulnerable people may have little choice but to ration their food and energy supply, and even self-disconnect if unable to pay. Fuel poverty creates a myriad of poor health outcomes and has a negative impact on physical and mental health. Cold homes are thought to cause 10,000 yearly deaths in the UK and contribute to £1.3 billion worth of health service costs in England.

The pandemic underscored the fragility of this reality, making an already difficult situation worse. It also presents a unique situation in which the support systems that address fuel poverty, such as charities and utilities, are also under unprecedented stress. In the UK, government policies are devolved across the four British nations and have respective methodological differences. Since the pandemic, the policies have faced hiatuses as stringent public health measures changed priorities. Although the rollout of COVID-19 recovery programmes brings some short-term relief, the programmes are not designed to tackle the longer term complexities of fuel poverty—especially when existing fuel poverty strategies could improve—and should thus be seen in a localised light.

In this paper, Meera Kotak and Victoria Chappell highlight the UK’s current fuel poverty landscape and mitigation strategies, key COVID-19 impacts, and perceived policy gaps. They examine how best to address fuel poverty through the lens of people, housing, and business, and as a topic outside of broader poverty initiatives.