Being a bit of a stats nerd, I generally find myself immured to shocking revelations from statistics. Occasionally, though, when numbers are bound up with a strong human or social element, I do find myself astounded and even horrified.
A few months back, for example, when I ran the numbers on police cuts in Essex and discovered the dizzying numbers of officers, PCSOs and backroom staff which had been lost to budget cuts.
This dwarfs that, though.
With thanks to Julian Ware-Lane for crunching the numbers, Rochford & Southend East (the constituency in which I live) is ranked worst in the whole of Essex for fuel poverty.
Fuel poverty is one of those serious issues which simmers along under the surface, only breaking through on occasion. It is something of a seasonal issue, rearing its head predominantly as the temperature drops and we head into the dark mornings and early nights of winter.
So to read that nearly 10% (9.7%, for those who crave exactitude) of households in Rochford & Southend East are in fuel poverty, in 21st Century Britain, is horrifying. The Department of Energy and Climate Change consider a household to be in fuel poverty if:
- they have required fuel costs that are above average (the national median level); and
- were they to spend that amount they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line.
And that definition applies to nearly 10% of households in Rochford & Southend East. That is, to be blunt, a disgrace. This is a constituency which has elected (in its various forms) Conservative members of Parliament since 1906. It has been represented since 2005 by James Duddridge, who is the present Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
This is Conservative heartlands, and it is safe to say that people are hurting.
I wish I could analyse, dissect and report on the Conservatives plans to deal with fuel poverty, but they don’t seem to have any.
Labour, on the other hand, have a policy to freeze energy prices, if a Labour government is elected next year, until 2017. This isn’t intended to be a fix, but rather a stopgap to protect people like this 10% whilst the inherent flaws in the energy market are fixed.
Remember that, as the temperatures drop and you turn on the heating. Fuel poverty is a real problem, in Britain and in Southend, and Labour are the only party with a plan to deal with it.