Dimensions of the fuel hardship experience

Andrea D Finney

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Being ‘fuel poor’ is defined officially as needing to spend 10 per cent or more of total household income to heat the home adequately for health and comfort, and to provide for basic hot water and lighting needs. According to the latest Government figures, about 4.5 million households in the UK – equivalent to 18 per cent of all households – were estimated to be living in fuel poverty in 2008. However, for many poorer households the prospect of spending the amount needed to heat their homes adequately in practice is unthinkable. Now, with many households incomes looking set to decrease in real terms, and gas, electricity and domestic oils widely expected to rise further, the difficulties at-risk households face look likely to get worse.
Our recent research, undertaken on behalf of Eaga CT in partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Energy, asked what fuel poverty really means for those living at its sharp edge. Using a specially-designed module of survey questions and semi-structured interviews with a subset of survey respondents, it explored quantitatively and qualitatively the lived experience of fuel hardship among those living below the poverty line. The main report from this study documented the many different techniques and coping mechanisms households employ to mitigate the effects of living in a cold home on a low income. It also portrayed problems with the fabric of families’ homes and their heating systems and the impact of fuel hardship on people’s health and well-being.
This paper describes a linked series of secondary quantitative analysis of the survey data to understand better the seemingly multi-faceted nature of the fuel hardship experience among the income-poor. The author uses exploratory factor analysis and cluster analysis to seek to identify: what are the distinct dimensions of fuel hardship that are realised among low-income households; and, based on these, what are the dominant patterns – or combinations – of these that exist among these households. In doing so, we highlight the practical and statistical challenges and solutions faced in applying the multivariate techniques to these real-world data.
Finally, we explore which types of low-income households are at greatest risk of experiencing each dominant pattern of fuel hardship and how they relate to other aspects of poverty, including social and material deprivation and over-indebtedness. Again, multivariate techniques, in particular regression analyses, are most suitable as they help identify the social factors that most strongly drive the fuel hardship experience and the socio-demographic characteristics that are most strongly associated with it.
Taken together, the findings equip stakeholders from government, industry and the third sector alike with the information needed to understand the fuel hardship experience from the perspective of the income-poor. Moreover, they provide the basis on which policy makers can target interventions aimed at reducing fuel poverty and its effects on the most vulnerable households in society more effectively.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2011
EventSocial Research Association Annual Conference 2011 - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Dec 20116 Dec 2011


ConferenceSocial Research Association Annual Conference 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Fuel poverty
  • Financial difficulty
  • Poverty
  • Regression
  • Cluster analysis


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