Study: Fuel poverty reflects financial difficulty, not heating costs

The financial difficulties that some people experience in heating their homes is a reflection of overall poverty rather than the cost of fuel or energy efficiency, a study has shown.

Families with mortgages or rent to pay show higher levels of deprivation than those who own their homes outright, according to a study of household poverty by the Economic and Social Research Institute.

“The results suggest that fuel poverty is primarily a matter of inadequate resources rather than the cost of heating or the energy efficiency of the dwelling,” said a report published yesterday based on research conducted by the ESRI’s Dorothy Watson and Bertrand Maître.

“There is increasing concern with fuel poverty, because of rising energy prices in recent years and because the recession has left many struggling to heat their homes.

“This raises the issue of whether fuel poverty is a genuinely distinct form of poverty which might require specific policy responses.”

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The ESRI study showed that the rates of so-called ‘fuel poverty’ were about 10%-11% from 2004 to 2007, rising to 12% in 2008, and continuing to rise steeply to reach 21% by 2011.

The researchers conclude that improving energy efficiency in homes will not necessarily help the poorest people in Ireland.

“This does not mean that there are not perfectly valid reasons for a policy focus on energy affordability and the energy efficiency of dwellings,” said the ESRI report.

“It does mean that such policies must be justified with respect to other goals than the reduction of fuel poverty.”

The researchers conclude that the results of the study suggest that the solution to the problem of fuel poverty lies in understanding and addressing people’s access to resources in general.

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