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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 16:24 GMT
Plan to end winter chill among needy
Elderly man in front of gas fire
One in eight households struggle to keep warm
A 15m scheme to end fuel poverty in the most vulnerable households by 2010 has been announced by the government.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the new strategy for the disabled and those on low income would be remembered as "one of the most important achievements of this government".

But campaigners Friends of the Earth say the scheme does not live up to Labour's promises.

It says the target should be eradicating fuel poverty everywhere.

Michael Meacher:
Mr Meacher: Commitment to end fuel poverty
Mr Meacher made his comments on a visit to 71-year-old Joacina Alexis in east London.

She was having central heating installed in her home, after relying on an electric fire for warmth since 1961.

"I came into politics because I was concerned about poverty and this is a commitment to end fuel poverty by 2010, for all vulnerable households in Britain," said Mr Meacher.

Death toll

About one in eight households struggle to keep warm over winter - some three million pensioner, family and disabled households.

Key elements of scheme
Children in low income housing to have warm home from day one
10m micro-scale combined heat and power pilot for up to 6,000 households
5m pilot to test use of renewable energy in areas with no gas supply
Probe into extension of gas network to rural areas
More training for young to be gas fitters

And studies suggest that as many as 50,000 elderly people die in Britain each winter because they cannot afford to turn on the heating.

Mr Meacher said the government was putting 5m into pilot projects in Northumberland, Stockton-on-Tees, Hull, Sandwell and Newham in east London, assessing how renewable energy could help cut fuel poverty.

Callum McCarthy, chief executive of Ofgem, the regulator for Britain's gas and electricity industries, said it would contribute to the scheme to tackle "the blight of fuel poverty".

And Richard Grant, Transco's Director of Affordable Warmth said it welcomed the scheme.

'Still shivering'

But Martyn Williams, Friends of the Earth senior parliamentary campaigner, said the scheme did not do what was required in law - to set targets to halt fuel poverty for all.

"It looks like the Treasury has forced ministers to do the bare minimum they can get away with. But this will leave an awful lot of people still shivering in winter."

A spokeswoman for Age Concern, speaking when the scheme was first announced in February, welcomed the strategy but said more needed to be done.

"Part of the solution must be to increase the basic state pension to a more adequate level so that older people can afford to heat their homes."

See also:

23 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Plan to cut deaths in cold homes
19 Sep 00 | Health
Cold weather kills thousands
27 Aug 99 | UK
Fuel poverty: Case studies
10 Feb 99 | Medical notes
Hypothermia
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