Who are the Fuel Poor?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The fuel poor are people who spend more than 10% of their monthly income on fuel, particularly the fuel required to keep a home warm. Fuel poverty is a serious problem in Northern Europe, parts of Asia, and North America, where cold winters can get very severe, posing a potential danger to people who cannot afford to heat their homes. In recognition of this, many governments offer financial assistance to people who cannot pay their heating bills, to ensure that their homes are kept warmed, at least to the minimal standard necessary for survival.

Woman with a headache
Woman with a headache

Several factors usually come together to make someone fuel poor. The first factor, of course, is poverty; the less money you have, the less money you have to spend on heat. High fuel costs are also a factor, especially when they rise abruptly, before wages have a chance to come up. Energy inefficiency is also an issue, as it costs more to heat an inefficient home.

Low-income families, people with disabilities, and the elderly are at the highest risk of being fuel poor, as are people who are unemployed. Fuel poverty often starts with an inability to manage other bills, which forces the household to turn down the heat in an attempt to save money. If bills are left unpaid too long, utilities may be turned off, making it impossible to heat a home, and in a severe winter, this can be deadly.

There are several ways to help the fuel poor, beyond providing government assistance in the form of grants or subsidies. Making homes more energy-efficient can be a big improvement, and many utility companies actually offer free home inspections and efficiency recommendations for this very reason. Low-income families may also be entitled to kits which include things like weatherstripping to help make a house more snug in the winter. Government controls on fuel prices can also help the fuel poor, although this can backfire if prices are deregulated, as they may rapidly rise.

Members of the surrounding community can also help the fuel poor. Some charity organizations maintain warmed structures in the winter for people who cannot afford to heat their homes, providing at least a place for people to be during the day, and sleeping bags, sweaters, and other cold weather gear may be handed out. Some agencies also provide heating vouchers which the fuel poor can use to pay for fuel in the tough winter months.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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