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Fuel Poverty

Volume 557: debated on Thursday 31 January 2013

The latest annual fuel poverty publication estimates that during the first year of the coalition Government, fuel poverty fell by 500,000 to 3.5 million households in England. It is projected that the number of households in fuel poverty remained the same in 2011, but may rise again in 2012.

I call Mrs Linda Riordan. [Interruption.] I do apologise. I thought the Minister of State had completed his answer, but there were further joys to behold and I did not realise that.

Since the Government came to power, the average energy bill has risen by more than £300 a year—a big issue for my constituents, with all the other cuts going on. Is it not a fact that the Government have halved their support for people in fuel poverty?

No, that is not the case. The hon. Lady knows that during the previous Parliament fuel poverty rose from 2 million to 5.5 million, and it continues to be a huge issue. The only way we will tackle it is not by chasing gas prices, but tackling the underlying cause—the fabric of our homes—and creating better, warmer and cheaper homes for people to live in.

In Oldham, more than 17,600 households —one in five—were in fuel poverty in 2010, but with energy bills up by as much as 20% that figure is likely to be much higher today. Oldham council is not content, however, to let the most vulnerable people in society suffer, and through a fair energy campaign, it is ensuring that people in my constituency can keep their homes warm without worrying about hefty energy bills. Will the Government take a lesson from Oldham council?

We are working collaboratively with local authorities up and down the country, which have a key role to play in delivering the green deal and ECO. It is by an area-based, street-by-street roll-out, rather than by chasing gas prices, that in the long term we will deal with fuel poverty once and for all.

My local borough, Stockton-on-Tees, is a national leader in tackling fuel poverty—we have had a warm zone initiative, a go warm campaign and now a hard-to-heat homes campaign—but it takes real investment to make these things happen. Energy companies are using consumers’ money to promote and install energy efficiency measures, but why will the Government not do the right thing and restore Government investment in energy efficiency measures, instead of leaving it to expensive loans that will cost consumers more than they might save?

By and large, consumers and taxpayers tend to be the same people. We are determined to get far better value out of our energy poverty eradication programmes than the previous Government did, and we will demonstrate that by getting more measures taken for less and bringing in competition. The green deal will, for the first time, let the fuel poor make real choices, as opposed to the monopoly one-size-fits-all solution of the previous Government.