Thursday 30th November 2023 is National Energy Action’s Fuel Poverty Awareness Day. NEA estimates that 6.3 million households are in fuel poverty in the UK. Roughly in one out of ten UK homes people have to limit their use of heating, hot water, lighting and appliances. We have a wealth of evidence from Fuel Poverty Evidence of the detrimental impacts that fuel poverty has on people in terms of health, wellbeing, education and quality of life.
A couple of years ago I interviewed Joe (name changed to protect anonymity) as part of the FAIR project that looked at the intersections of fuel and transport poverty. Joe talked about his cold home and how he had not used the boiler for six years as energy bills were too high, even before the energy price crisis. Joe said he was used to walking everywhere as he often did not have enough money for the local bus. Joe’s daily existence, especially in winter months, was one of being cold inside and outside the home, particularly on his walks to work and seeing friends. He also mainly had cold meals. Joe spoke of his pride and how he found it hard to ask for help. He said how he had realised how important it is to reach people with the right help – which is something he now does working for a charity that initially helped him, whilst reflecting on his own experience.
The interview with Joe really stuck with me and made me reflect on how we do research in the fuel poverty space. Researchers can sometimes be seen as treating research participants as distant subjects that just provide a data point. Using terms like ‘the fuel poor’ or ‘the vulnerable’ do not really help as they can be seen as othering and stigmatising people. We who work in this space have a duty of care towards research participants like Joe, not only in how we treat people in interviews, but also how we write and talk about them later. Terms and language matter, and while we do not always get it right, it is important to reflect on it.
Talking to Joe was a privilege as he spoke with me – a total stranger he had not met before – openly about his struggles. He also asked me to share his story, and we have highlighted his lived experience in a paper and in a recent This is Fuel Poverty zine that tells the stories of four people who have faced fuel poverty. With stories like Joe’s, I hope we can raise more awareness of fuel poverty.