2,700 die a year from fuel poverty

ThermostatAround 2,700 people a year die every year in the UK because they're not warm enough. Or, more accurately, are too worried about paying their utility bills to turn the thermostat up. It means the number of people dying because they can't afford to heat their homes now outstrips the amount of people killed on UK roads each year.

Vast increase

The results are from a new study commissioned by energy secretary Chris Huhne, which also reveals the huge increase of people defined as living in fuel poverty, from 1.2m people in 2004 to 4.1m this year. That's a massive 241% increase. 'Fuel poor' is defined as when 10% of your income goes on fuel bills.

Meanwhile the energy companies continue to pile on the profits. Labour's Caroline Flint, the shadow energy and climate change secretary, has been quick to criticise the figures, demanding energy companies use their profits "to cut bills now".

Social tariff needed?

But apart from a windfall tax in 1997, Gordon Brown put very little effort into reining in the power giants, worried that any levies would deter long-term investment. The current problem is also exacerbated by new "green" taxes, designed to help subsidise longer-term investment in the UK's creaking utilities infrastructure, as well as meeting new energy consumption targets using renewables.

How about better communication between the Department of Work and Pensions, with special social tariffs to ensure vulnerable householders get a better deal? A move like that would go some way to deflecting criticism of huge profits by energy companies - which now risk being perceived as "the new banks" - while also targeting those most exposed. Literally.

Fuel poverty is thought to be worst in Scotland - yet Scotland is also considerably more energy-rich than England. Work that one out.
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