One in five of the fuel-poor does not have access to mains gas, and the majority of those households are in rural areas. We are determined to increase the delivery of energy efficiency improvements to the rural fuel-poor and to achieve far more for rural areas than previous schemes. We are actively taking forward a number of initiatives to deliver on that.
There are an estimated 10,000 off-grid homes in East Hampshire. I know that the Minister is personally committed to tackling rural fuel poverty where it appears, but what is being done on a practical basis, including on encouraging off-peak buying and ensuring that the code of practice is upheld?
I know this is an issue about which my hon. Friend feels particularly strongly, so I am happy to confirm to him that we are taking real steps. I will shortly be meeting the biggest seven energy suppliers to discuss improving the delivery of ECO measures, specifically to off-gas and rural homes. We are also consulting on increasing the number of rural low income homes eligible for ECO and incentivising the delivery of measures to off-gas grid, low income and vulnerable households. And—
In many of the rural communities that are finding it so difficult because of fuel poverty, those who get the winter fuel payment would love to receive it earlier. Is the Minister prepared to meet a delegation of the all-party group on off-gas grid led by his hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) to discuss this matter?
This has been raised with me and I understand the work that the all-party parliamentary group is doing on it. I am sympathetic to the point that is made, but there are practical problems and costs to doing as the hon. Gentleman suggests. But I am not unsympathetic to him and, of course, I would be happy to meet.
Over half the people in this country who are in fuel poverty live in solid wall properties, and a significant number of those are people living off-grid in rural communities. Again, the changes announced to ECO in the autumn statement mean that no more than 25,000 solid wall insulation jobs a year will be done, whereas a few years ago 80,000 jobs a year were being done. If the Minister really intends to tackle fuel poverty in off-grid areas, how can he do so without an adequate solid wall insulation industry?
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is scaremongering slightly about the solid wall insulation industry. The figures he referred to are the de minimis; they are not the maximum. There are other ways in which we will be installing solid wall insulation, not least working with our cash-back. I am surprised he did not mention the cash-back, as we are now offering up to £4,000 for solid wall insulation under the roll-out of the green deal. This has been very warmly welcomed by the industry, including the National Insulation Association, so perhaps he could join us in supporting the supply chain and talking up this market, rather than acting as a little bit of an Eeyore.