Fuel poverty across the UK: how regions compare and which areas will be hardest hit by gas price rises

Even before the energy crisis millions of households across the UK could not afford to pay their energy bills.

Millions of families living in fuel poverty across the UK are set to be the hardest hit this winter as wholesale gas prices reach record highs, pushing consumer energy bills up.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said the impending cut to the £20 Universal Credit uplift and surging energy prices could plunge people into poverty.

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Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands, which have some of the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK, will face the most “severe impact”, according to the charity.

How is fuel poverty measured?

More than four million  families across the UK are classed as living in fuel poverty by their respective devolved governments, analysis by NationalWorld reveals.

Definitions of fuel poverty in the UK vary from country to country.

In Scotland and Wales, families are generally classed as being in fuel poverty if they would have to spend more than 10% of their income heating their home adequately.

Northern Ireland also uses a 10% benchmark but for all energy costs, rather than heating alone.

In England, households need to be in a home with an inefficient energy rating, as well as being left below the poverty line after heating costs.

How many people are in fuel poverty?

Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy figures for England show an estimated 3.2 million families were living in fuel poverty in 2019 – around 13% of all households, or more than one in eight.

Welsh government data for 2018 shows a similar proportion of families (155,000, or 12% of households) may also have been unable to afford their energy bills, while the Scottish Government puts the figure there at 613,000 households, or 25%.

In Northern Ireland, Housing Executive data shows an estimated 131,000 households were in fuel poverty in 2018 – 28% of households.

Though calculations vary, fuel poverty is generally determined by measuring household income, household energy requirements and fuel prices.

Regional inequalities across England

There are vast regional inequalities across England.

The West Midlands is the worst affected region with almost one in four families impacted.

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There are 429,730 households in fuel poverty across the region (18%). In Birmingham Hodge Hill, the worst affected constituency in England, more than a quarter of households (27%) are affected.

Only 8% of households  in the South East(288,025), are  in fuel poverty. Wokingham in the South East has the lowest proportion, at 5%.

Severe impact on families

Peter Matejic, deputy director of evidence and impact at The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said the rising energy prices and axing of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit would be “devastating” to around 5.5 million families across the country.

Mr Matejic said: “This historic cut will have the most severe impact in areas already experiencing high levels of fuel poverty, namely Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands.

“But wherever they live, millions of families across the country will immediately face unnecessary hardship and be forced to make impossible decisions between feeding their families, heating their homes, or paying the bills.

“If the Prime Minister wants to truly level up and improve living standards in the face of the rising cost of living, he must reverse this damaging cut or risk his premiership being defined by plunging people into poverty.”

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Investment into making homes more energy efficient

A spokesperson for the UK Government said that the uplift to Universal Credit was “always temporary” and that it provides price protection for low income and vulnerable consumers on default tariffs through the energy price cap and the Warm Home Discount scheme.

A Government spokesperson said: “We are investing £1.3 billion into making homes more energy efficient, cheaper to heat and helping low-income families significantly reduce their energy bills.”

“The uplift to Universal Credit was always temporary, to help claimants through the economic shock of the toughest stages of the pandemic.”

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