Disabled campaigners have welcomed a new inquiry by MPs that will examine the extent of fuel poverty experienced by disabled people.
The Commons energy and climate change committee announced last week that it was holding a short inquiry into the government’s efforts to tackle fuel poverty.
The committee’s acting chair, Labour MP Paddy Tipping, said this week that he wanted to hear evidence on fuel poverty – when at least 10 per cent of household income is spent on heating bills – from disabled people and disability organisations.
He said he was “particularly keen to have a look at people with a long-term illness and disability” as part of the inquiry.
Tipping said he was concerned that only 14 per cent of the £2.7 billion spent on winter fuel allowances for those over 60 went to those in fuel poverty, while the government was not meeting its own fuel poverty targets.
Tipping said: “If we are spending £2.7 billion and only 14 per cent are in fuel poverty, it raises questions about the effectiveness of it.
“There is a case for other groups of people, people with disabilities, with long-term illnesses maybe (receiving it).”
The government has consistently refused to extend winter fuel payments to severely disabled people under 60.
Dan Burden, head of public affairs for the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA), which plans to submit evidence to the committee, welcomed the inquiry and said the issue of fuel poverty was “very important”.
The charity has heard from people with spinal cord injuries who regular miss out on a daily hot meal in order to keep their heating on.
SIA wants winter fuel payments extended to people with spinal cord injury, because their condition means they need to keep their homes warmer.
Burden said many other disabled people under 60 with mobility impairments faced a similar need for winter fuel payments.
An energy bill that has reached its Commons report stage will include proposals to force fuel companies to reduce the bills of “vulnerable” people, replacing a voluntary agreement which runs out in 2011.
The agreement has reduced the bills of more than a million “vulnerable” households, about half of which include a disabled person or someone with a limiting long-term illness.
Last July, figures from the government’s own Fuel Poverty Advisory Group suggested that more than a million extra disabled people had fallen into fuel poverty in the four years between 2004 and 2008.
The deadline for submitting written evidence is 15 February.
For more information, visit www.parliament.uk/ecc
27 January 2010