What is fuel poverty and who does it affect?

What is fuel poverty?

There are different definitions of fuel poverty but in essence it means not being able to afford to heat your home to the level needed to keep healthy.  

With energy bills rocketing it’s been estimated that more than 1 in 3 households could be in fuel poverty from October 2022 and that this proportion could increase as energy bills continue to surge. 

Poor housing is a major contributor. There are more than 4.4 million homes in England and Wales that are suitable for cavity wall insulation but don’t have it, and 4.8 million without loft insulation. These basic insulation measures would stop so much heating leaking from homes, reduce energy bills and increase warmth.  

Fuel poverty and poor health

If you’re living in fuel poverty, you’re much more likely to live in a cold home and/or live somewhere with poor energy efficiency, which is linked to inadequate insulation and damp living conditions.

Cold homes are bad for your health. They can make pre-existing conditions worse, lead to new health conditions and even cause premature death. Some health problems associated with living in a cold home include:

  • a higher chance of getting a respiratory infection and bronchitis
  • stress on the cardiovascular system
  • making asthma symptoms worse, or causing asthma to develop
  • an increased risk of mental health problems.
A woman with a cup of tea and blanket looking outside the window. It's raining, and we can't see her face.

Who does fuel poverty affect?

People on low incomes but with higher-than-average energy consumption - often linked to poor home insulation – are most impacted. Friends of the Earth has identified the 8,927 neighbourhoods which will suffer most from the energy crisis. We are calling these energy crisis hotspots.

People of colour, young people and disabled people are more affected by fuel poverty than others. Those on pre-payment are also particularly affected by high energy costs as they can’t smooth their energy bills through the year.

Sign the petition and demand urgent action to tackle the energy crisis

Keep people warm this winter

Real-life impact of fuel poverty

Colin, who lives with cancer, had his energy bill doubled overnight. His oncologist asked him to keep his flat at a certain temperature, however, he couldn't afford to. This heartbreaking story is a reality faced by many ill people all over the UK. Listen to Colin's story in his own words.

Energy crisis hotspots in England and Wales

Case study: disabled person living in fuel poverty

Low income is one of the key reasons people struggle with fuel poverty. For disabled people, the cost of living is higher than someone who isn't disabled. Disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed compared to non-disabled people. And many who can work, can't work full-time, affecting their finances.

Jess, 28, from Derby tells us what it’s like living in fuel poverty as a disabled person.

"My income is very much affected by my disability. I can't work full-time due to fatigue and the sheer number of medical appointments I have. I'd love to be in a position where I can physically work full-time, but I have to accept it's never going to be the case for me.

"Energy prices keep rising and its put a lot of extra pressure on me. We're entering winter and it's a worry how I'll afford to keep my home warm - something a 28-year-old really shouldn't have at the top of their agenda. I always put extra layers on and blankets prior to putting the heating on, but now I've started questioning what meals I can make which use less electricity.

"I've been unwell in the past due to limiting my heating and the impact this has had on my already struggling immune system. I like to think that I try not to worry about things I can't control, but in reality these things do worry me and are an additional stress which my mind and body don't need."

Read more about the real-life impact of the energy crisis.

Remember, your council has the power to allocate funds to tackle fuel poverty in your area. If you're concerned about the levels of fuel poverty in your local area, find out who your MP is and ask them to take action on fuel poverty. If you're experiencing fuel poverty, Fuel Poverty Action has information and advice on dealing with energy companies, as well as knowing your rights.