Duncan Sedgwick, head of energy industry body the Energy Retail Association, says fuel poverty must be fought on all fronts.
By Duncan Sedgwick
Chief Executive, Energy Retail Association
You know you're onto something when all the political parties are agreeing.
Climate change is the buzz-word of the day and barely a moment goes by without another worrying statistic being churned out.
We feel that fuel poverty needs to be at the epicentre of these discussions and we need to address all the contributory factors to this serious issue.
So let's go back to basics. There are typically four main drivers that will force someone into fuel poverty.
First and foremost, is income. If a household's disposable income is less than around £9,000 a year they are likely to be fuel poor (based on an average annual energy bill of £900).
Today there are over two million people living on such a paltry sum and that's a national scandal in the 21st Century.
Our research has found that many people calling our Home Heat Helpline are missing out on up to £1,500 of benefits to which they are entitled.
We need to urgently help these people access the money and services they are due from government and the private sector.
Second is the quality and energy efficiency of the person's home. At the moment, over £2bn worth of household fuel costs are going up the chimney because millions of homes are lacking basic loft insulation.
Investing in good quality homes saves energy and saves money in the long run. The exemplary work that's been done in Scotland demonstrates this.
HELP WITH BILLS
Home Heat helpline
0800 33 66 99
08459 06 07 08
Eaga benefit entitlement check
0191 247 3800
Pensioners living in Scotland can claim for a range of measures, including free central heating installation. Interestingly, the number of excess winter deaths almost halved last winter compared with the previous year.
Thirdly, the standard of people's health is obviously a critical factor. We need to work with the frontline carers to make sure that potential victims are being identified and supported.
Last but not least, it's the price of heating our homes. Over the last three years, wholesale electricity prices have increased 140% and gas prices by a whopping 170%.
The energy suppliers have not passed all these increases to their customers. In fact, average electricity bills have increased around 60% and gas bills by about 100% during this time.
But there's no doubt that people are feeling the pinch and that's another reason why energy suppliers have committed to spend over £700m over these three years on tackling fuel poverty.
We need to use this time of heightened interest in climate change and global energy security to push forward the fuel poverty agenda.
The government's target for eliminating fuel poverty is approaching like a steam train and we need to look at the progress made on all four corners of this debate.
Energy suppliers have been spending more than any other sector on protecting vulnerable customers - I believe this commitment will continue.
The time is now ripe for the government to take serious action and work collaboratively with us and the rest of the private sector so that we can lift everyone out of fuel poverty by 2016.