The North-South divide in fuel poverty narrows as more people in Southern England experience fuel poverty

Gas stovetop cooker.
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New data shows from think tank the Open Data Institute (ODI) has revealed that the North-South divide in fuel poverty has narrowed, with more people in Southern England experiencing fuel poverty.

ODI Fuel Poverty Risk Index

The first annual update to the ODI’s Fuel Poverty Risk Index demonstrates the value of data infrastructure to help understand the scale and depth of fuel poverty across England. The Index combines more data than any other available for England. It scores each area across multiple indicators, including climate, income, deprivation, benefit receipt, and housing stock, to show the areas of highest need. The data analysis reveals a surprising picture of England.

Wide geographic variations in fuel poverty continue across England. The ODI has identified the top ten local authorities for fuel poverty risk – the highest rises year-on-year are in the South East and South West of England. Fuel poverty increases in the South East may surprise many as the annual income measure used by the ODI’s index shows high average incomes in the area.

The data in the ODI’s index demonstrates that fuel poverty across the UK has got worse in the last year, with the average fuel poverty risk index score across England increasing from 39.0 in 2022 to 41.2 in 2023. The top ten local authorities with the highest risk of fuel poverty have the worst index score year-on-year when comparing the ODI’s 2022 and 2023 fuel poverty risk indexes.

3.6 million people missing from the data

Just 15% of the 290 Local Authority Districts (LADs) analysed saw a year-on-year decrease in their fuel poverty risk.

More than 3.6 million people are missing from the official data and potentially in fuel poverty due to the way fuel poverty is defined as only homes with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D or below, even if occupants of homes with a higher EPC rating are struggling to pay energy bills.

Government fuel poverty statistics continue to reflect wide geographic variations: the West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber have the highest proportion of households in fuel poverty (19% and 16% respectively) in England and higher than London at 13%.

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Based on the ODI’s fuel poverty risk index, for the second year running households living in Blackpool have the highest propensity for fuel poverty.

The 2023 index also reflects the increase in benefits claimed across England, where the average proportion of residents claiming Universal Credit increased from 13.2% in 2022 to 14.2% in 2023.

Better data is needed

Resham Kotecha, Head of Policy at the ODI, said:

The updated fuel poverty index illustrates the need for an effective national data infrastructure to target help from energy companies, government and charities efficiently. We can identify those most in need of support, see how these needs are evolving and pinpoint which groups might need support. Effective data collection and infrastructure would assist policymakers, charities, and community groups target and direct support so that the most vulnerable in society get the support they need. Regularly updated data analysis would mean that decisions would be based on accurate information and that taxpayer’s money is used effectively.

There is a greater need than ever for better data infrastructure to help address our most pressing challenges. The ODI believes that a strong, trustworthy data infrastructure is the lifeblood of the global economy, on a par with essentials like clean water and transport networks.

Dr Tom Kerridge, Policy and Research Manager at Centrepoint, said:

Many people will be unsurprised to see areas such as Blackpool continue to suffer fuel poverty, but this new analysis sheds light on the fact that areas such as Torridge in Devon are also suffering. Continued access to high-quality open data on issues such as this will be important for organisations who offer support to people affected by fuel poverty, and ensure that efforts are directed towards those who need it most.

The energy crisis is “getting worse”

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition – part of the Warm This Winter campaign – said:

The data reveals that the energy crisis is far from over and is, in fact, getting worse. The analysis should highlight to the government and support agencies that further targeted support is urgently required during the coming cold winter months. The Index suggests a strong case for delivering long-term system reforms and improvements to the energy efficiency of buildings.

The Fuel Poverty Risk Index is the ODI’s latest deep dive into the national data infrastructure around social challenges. In September 2023, the ODI published data analysis on The cost of living: how data can help tackle the crisis. Both pieces of analysis reveal gaps and inconsistencies in the data and disparities in how data is captured by different organisations.

A national standard in data collection and better national data infrastructure would allow the government, local authorities, charities and other front-line services to cost effectively target help to those who need it most.

Featured image via Wikimedia

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