Friday, 11 May 2012

Cash poor; fuel poor

Fuel poverty is when a household has to spend 10% or more of its income on heating the home to a reasonable temperature (the Government considers this to be 21C in the main living area and 18c in other rooms). Fuel poverty comes about from rising energy prices, low income and poor home energy efficiency. It doesn't matter if you heat your home by mains gas, LPG, fuel oil or electricity.

The last few years have seen an increase in the number of fuel poor households, if you’re the bill payer in the house you don’t need me to tell you that energy prices have shot up. This is the biggest contributor to pushing the figures up to a point where 5.5 million homes, or 21% of all household in the UK, are in fuel poverty, a rise of around 1 million when compared to 2008, based on DECC's latest data. 4.5 million of those homes are classed as vulnerable (elderly, children or disabled).

So it's a significant social issue that's getting worse.

I've talked about fuel poverty in a couple of lessons, mostly linked to the energy topics in GCSE. One of the issues I faced was trying to convey the scale and depth of the problem across the UK as it's not talked about that much in the media. IT systems allowing, I've used a map I produced last year when I was doing a bit of work on fuel poverty as part of my previous job. I got the idea from a similar map produced by Alasdair Rae for the Guardian looking at the Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) - basically how deprived a specific area is. The maps use data from the Office for National Statistics that is broken down into tiny areas, smaller than each Local Authority called Lower Super Output Area (LSOA). They're designed to represent areas of equal population size, around 300 people, so the data is really specific.

I presented the fuel poverty data for England in a Google Fusion map. Fusion is a pretty cool, free data/GIS package that's been around for a couple of years and is pretty easy to use as these things go. I'm really keen to get pupils trying it out but haven't had the chance yet.

This link should take you to the fusion table of fuel poverty in England for 2008. To access the map you need to click on the Visualise tab > map, and then zoom in to England. It can take quite a while for each area to load up because of the amount of data presented, and some areas will need to be zoomed right in to show anything. If you click on one of the LSOA areas it brings up the number of homes in fuel poverty and the % affected. I think the choropleth map is pretty effective at showing the scale of the problems across the country.

A few questions that could be linked to the map to encourage pupils to explore the areas further. I'm thinking GCSE/AS level with these.

  • Describe the distribution of fuel poor household across England
  • Compare an area in Cumbria with an area in Middlesbrough. One is a rural and the other is urban. Why do you think homes in both of these places are fuel poor? Are the reasons the same?
  • Choose one sector of a city that suffers from fuel poverty. Research the chosen city to identify the reasons why fuel poverty is such a problem. Think about the local social and economic impacts.
These are just off the top of my head. Interested to hear about how other people have used Google Fusion.

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