RISING unemployment and reliance on social welfare are placing more people at risk of fuel poverty during the recession.
An annual update on fuel poverty carried out by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) highlighted fuel poverty as a “major concern during the economic downturn”.
The IPH called on the Government not to make any adjustments in the budget which would further increase fuel poverty.
Fuel poverty occurs when people live in cold, damp and thermally inefficient houses.
It occurs when a household needs to spend more than 10% of their income on energy in order to maintain an acceptable level of heat throughout their home.
IPH chief executive Dr Jane Wilde said there had been a “considerable” improvement in energy efficiency in the residential sector but progress could be faster.
“The current economic downturn presents a formidable challenge to reducing fuel poverty on the island, creating pressure for the development of new and innovative approaches.”
The most recent figure for fuel poverty here uses an EU measure and showed a rate approaching 10% in 2007. Britain uses a different measuring system which the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) used to estimate that fuel poverty here rose by 4% to 19.4% between 2006 and 2008.
A cold spell in early 2009 caused Governments in the Republic and Northern Ireland to respond by introducing additional fuel subsidies and fast tracking energy saving initiatives.
Co-author of the report, Prof Christine Liddell of the University of Ulster said a number of steps could be taken to reduce the level of fuel poverty.
“The economic downturn is placing more people at risk of fuel poverty, as unemployment and dependency on welfare rises.
“A number of steps could help reduce the likelihood of fuel poverty such as improving the energy efficiency of homes and fitting ‘smart metering’ and better commitment to standards in rental accommodation,” she said.
The Renewed Programme for Government in October promised to deliver a national fuel poverty strategy by the end of the year.
The programme also made a commitment that those most at risk of fuel poverty would be protected.
Research from UCD last year showed there are between 1,500 and 2,000 more deaths each winter here compared with summer.
At 21%, Ireland has the second-highest level of excess winter mortality in Europe, with many of these deaths being linked to fuel poverty.
This compares with 10% in Finland, 12% in Denmark and 14% in Austria.
All these countries experience much colder winters than Ireland.
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