I led a debate in Parliament today regarding fuel poverty.
When I arrived in Westminster in May last year it was not many days before I was advised that West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has one of the highest levels of fuel poverty in rural England. Research, published in the Autumn, confirmed this and reported that families are paying up to £1,460 extra annually for energy because of poorly insulated homes - the highest of all parliamentary constituencies in England. 50.4% of homes are rated E,F or G for energy efficiency and will on average have significantly higher bills. Basically, more homes in this constituency let out the heat. As we know heating fuel is expensive and this causes a problem because the average wage in West Cornwall is a third less than the UK average. We have a fuel poverty problem but the problem is not unique to the far Southwest. The suggestion is that the UK has the leakiest homes in the EU.
However, I'm minded to see this not as a problem, but rather an opportunity. By addressing this effectively we could lower household energy bills, reduce hospital admissions, create skilled jobs, improve our housing and lower the cost of living.
On Friday this week I am hosting a conference in Penzance, bringing together people who have an interest in addressing this problem to draw up a local strategy to tackle fuel poverty. Delegates include representatives of local councils, social and private landlords, local business leaders and a representative of SmartEnergy GB and the Association of Conservation of Energy. We will do what we can but the reality is that without clear direction, support and investment from the Government our impact will be limited to a few homes in the far Southwest.
I have secured this Westminster Hall debate because my efforts in the West Country are not enough. Fuel poverty is not something that will ever be addressed adequately unless we have a nationally-led strategy.
I hope that this debate will, in some way, help us to promote the full economic benefits of a major energy efficiency programme. New Frontier Economics research shows, based on the Government’s own economic data, that a major programme to make British homes more energy efficient could provide net economic benefits of around £8.7 billion. A major energy efficiency programme could cut our gas imports by 26% and create up to 108,000 jobs across the UK. If the Government invests a modest level of capital infrastructure funding to an energy efficiency programme it can deliver these additional economic benefits, boost energy security and economic productivity, reduce fuel bills and save lives. It can also benefit our local economy.
This debate is part of a campaign that must run and run until we have made significant progress in our war on fuel poverty.