Public back bolder policies to reduce fuel and transport poverty

  • Study finds there is wide public support for more ambitious UK policies to tackle fuel and transport poverty.
  • Even those who may not have issues with energy and transport bills now are concerned they may need help in the future.
  • A ’universal basic energy’ policy and cheaper bus and train fares could help those on the lowest of incomes.

The UK public would back more ambitious policies such as a ’universal energy policy’ to help people with the cost-of-living crisis, finds new research from the University of Sussex Business School into attitudes towards fuel and transport poverty.

The research, now published in Nature, studied the experiences of those affected by energy and transport poverty, and found that there are several policies, supported by both the public and experts, that could be quickly implemented, whilst also helping achieve net zero goals. These include a social energy tariff or a universal energy policy, which would guarantee cheaper energy to vulnerable users who cannot afford their basic needs. Such a policy was recently called for by the Ofgem Chief Executive, Jonathan Brearley.

In the paper, Policy prescriptions to address energy and transport poverty in the United Kingdom, the researchers interviewed 42 experts and held eight focus groups with 49 members of the public in each of the devolved nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Participants were then asked their views on a set of national policies that might help address energy and transport poverty.

Researchers found that the favoured policies of both public and experts, such as mandatory energy efficiency requirements for landlords and cheaper bus and train fares, could provide useful first steps in future policies to address what the researchers describe as ’double energy vulnerability’, which is when people struggle to afford both necessary energy transport services.

It also suggests that in the longer-term, the public may be more open to large-scale and ambitious policies to transform the energy and transport systems than is sometimes assumed.

Prof Benjamin Sovacool , Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Sussex Business School, said:

"Even though it’s a hidden killer in the household, energy poverty is all but neglected in prominent policy circles in the UK. And transport poverty is even less considered. But we need robust, sustained policy intervention if the cost-of-living crises is to be tackled and people are to achieve warm homes, comfortable commutes, and even meaningful lives."

Prof Mari Martiskainen , Professor of Energy and Society, at the University of Sussex Business School, said:

"Millions more people have faced fuel poverty in the UK this winter. While there is no official definition for transport poverty, the two are closely connected as high energy prices impact not only how warm people stay at home, but also whether they can use necessary travel options. Cold and damp homes cause ill health, and the lack of travel options can hinder people’s employment and education opportunities.

"Our findings indicate that there is ample public support for more extensive and fundamental changes. It is time to consider ambitious policies that address the root causes of fuel and transport poverty, so that we can limit the impact this has on quality of life. Universal basic energy and social tariffs require further examination, but our research shows that there is public support for policies to help those who most need it, starting with improving housing stock and providing affordable and accessible public transport".

Dr Neil Simcock , Senior Lecturer in Geography at Liverpool John Moores University, said:

"Our research suggests there is strong expert and public agreement around a set of policies that would help mitigate fuel and transport poverty whilst also contributing to the UK’s decarbonisation goals. We need ambitious measures to transform our leaky housing stock, to reform the retail energy market and to reduce dependence on private vehicles for everyday travel."

Gerardo A. Torres Contreras , Research Fellow in Energy Studies in the University of Sussex Business School, said:

"This paper highlights that if we do not tackle the fundamental drivers behind energy and transport poverty with effective policy interventions, we risk reproducing and exacerbating entrenched inequalities in the transition to Net Zero societies, which many societies have pledged to meet the temperature goals".