Report Highlights NI Fuel Poverty

As winter approaches, measures to tackle fuel poverty in Northern Ireland over the past decade have been highlighted.

A new report said this week these have been effective - but that much more needs to be done.

This was the result of new research carried out by the University of Ulster.

'Defining Fuel Poverty: A Preliminary Review' which was commissioned by the Department of Social Development (DSD), was launched by the DSD Minister Nelson McCausland who welcomed its contents.

Christine Liddell, Professor of Psychology at the University of Ulster, led the independent Preliminary Review of fuel poverty, which is one of three being carried out across the UK.

She said: "While efforts to tackle fuel poverty in Northern Ireland have made measurable inroads - the severity of fuel poverty remains profound for many households.

"The Preliminary Review concludes, based on the extensive evidence gathered, that past and present approaches to tackling fuel poverty in Northern Ireland have delivered a highly cost-effective programme of housing regeneration.

"Returns from investment in Warm Homes and similar programmes include: substantial impacts on human health and well-being; significant savings on energy bills for thousands of households; measurable returns in terms of job creation and a widening of opportunities for consolidating partnerships across the public and private sector.

"When all of these gains are taken into account, it is likely that the

Warm Homes Scheme and similar fuel poverty programmes are cost-neutral over a lifespan of 15 years.

"This is because the amount invested in tackling fuel poverty is fully returned through beneficial impacts on health and wellbeing, household income and employment.

"Despite this, there is still much to do. Survey data (NIHCS, 2009) indicates that more than 33,000 households in Northern Ireland need to spend more than a quarter of their income on heating and lighting for their home," she continued.

"The Review highlights the need for a local approach to tackling fuel poverty which focuses on Northern Ireland's unique fuel poverty landscape."

She added: "The UK Fuel Poverty Strategy (2001) has been in place for a decade, during which there has been major investment, relentless monitoring and intense debate. The current round of reviews is only the first stage in a process of more systemic reflection and reform.

"Northern Ireland is well-placed to contribute to this process. It has a strong grasp of the regional issues that should be taken into the national arena and a networked infrastructure of stakeholders which has the capacity and passion to move forward."

Ministerial Welcome

Commenting, the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland welcomed the publication of the report.

"In my Department's fuel poverty strategy 'Warmer Healthier Homes' published in April, we gave a commitment to carrying out an evaluation of the current definition of fuel poverty.

"This report was essential to helping my target our resources at those most in need," he said.

The review has concluded that applying a revised calculation based on total energy costs, a core of 13% of householders in Northern Ireland are in fuel poverty, prompting the DUP Minister to add: "This 13%, around 75,000 households, are in severe fuel poverty by national standards.

"For this group, fuel poverty is likely to lead to a public health concern, since many of these people may be living in homes that are below minimum standards. In order to prioritise those most in need, these households must become the primary focus of Northern Ireland's Fuel Poverty Strategy."

Minister McCausland went on to say: "While the report is hugely beneficial in helping my Department target resources at a core group of householders, it in no way dilutes the very real difficulties facing many other households across Northern Ireland."


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