“A household is in fuel poverty if, in order to maintain an acceptable level of temperature throughout the home, the occupants would have to spend more than 10% of their income on all household fuel use.”
Improving the homes of those vulnerable to fuel poverty therefore plays an important role, as cold, damp housing can cause respiratory diseases, hypothermia and may contribute to additional winter deaths among older people.
Across Northern Ireland, the PHA is working in partnership with the public, private, community, voluntary and academic sectors to research, evaluate and deliver a range of local and regional initiatives to alleviate fuel poverty and maximise income for those living in fuel poverty.
We have established a regional fuel poverty and health network to develop a more strategic approach to fuel poverty and health across the region. In partnership with National Energy Action (NEA), we hosted a regional conference on fuel poverty and health in November. A priority was to engage with frontline Health and Social Care (HSC) staff and highlight their key role in identifying vulnerable households and signposting to relevant support services and grants.
Fuel poverty investment has provided assistance, including:
- energy efficiency advice;
- insulation measures;
- ‘whole house solutions’;
- awareness-raising activity;
- referrals to grant schemes;
- access to benefits and development;
- implementation of local action plans to tackle fuel poverty.
Benefit maximisation schemes across Northern Ireland have also significantly improved household incomes. These schemes, part of our fuel poverty programmes, take referrals from HSC. They aim to reduce poverty within vulnerable groups and promote health and wellbeing.
The PHA is investing £447,500 in 2010/11 to combat fuel poverty. Working in partnership, this investment has also attracted additional funding. This includes energy efficiency grants through the Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) sustainable energy fund and the warm homes scheme, and £707,000 from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to alleviate rural poverty and isolation.
The regional fuel poverty and health network, chaired by the PHA, will contribute to the production of the new Department for Social Development (DSD) fuel poverty strategy for Northern Ireland Warmer Healthier Homes.
- In 2006, 34% of households in Northern Ireland were fuel poor, compared to 24% in 2004 and 27% in 2001.
- Rural areas have been shown to have particular problems – almost 24% of rural households did not have any form of cavity wall insulation, 19% did not have double glazing and almost 8% had no roof insulation.
- Tackling fuel poverty will impact on the environment as fuel poor households often use more polluting fuels, causing emissions of carbon dioxide and other noxious gases.