HC Deb 05 February 2004 vol 417 cc894-5
10. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/ Co-op)

What assessment she has made of the conclusions of the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group regarding the funding provided for the warm front programme. [152873]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett)

We are grateful to the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group for its report and recommendations. Funding for the next financial year will be of the order of £150 million. Funding requirements beyond that will be decided as part of the 2004 spending round, taking into account representations by the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group and also the comments of the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.

David Taylor

The Government have a statutory target to eradicate fuel poverty from vulnerable households by 2010, and the 2003 annual report of the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, which is published today, recognises that significant progress has been made toward that target. However, it says that expenditure on programmes such as that to which my question refers needs to be upped by 50 per cent. in the coming years, especially to help the integration of Government Departments' activities, to focus on the private rented sector, to supply gas when possible and to give more measurable targets in the spending round. Is the Secretary of State hopeful that that will happen—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Enough.

Margaret Beckett

I think my hon. Friend's complaint was that it is not enough, Mr. Speaker.

I simply say to my hon. Friend that we have read, and will study, the report with great interest. I recognise that the concerns that he expresses are contained in the report, and I am grateful to him for acknowledging how much progress has already been made. He knows that some of the concerns that we have identified to which we will need to give careful consideration are criticisms that not all the programme has been directed at the fuel poor. There is a distinction between people who are vulnerable—no one disputes their vulnerability—and those who are specifically fuel poor. We shall have to give careful consideration to all those issues.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

When considering this rather peculiar concept of fuel poverty, will the Secretary of State tell us how much consideration is given to the individual lifestyles and spending priorities of those who claim to be in fuel poverty? Does it not seem rather odd that we have a concept of so-called fuel poverty, but that we do not have one of food poverty or any other specific kind of poverty? How on earth can the scheme be made to work in isolation from individuals taking responsibility for their own spending priorities in their own households?

Margaret Beckett

I can only say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is some 20 or 30 years since people were first able to identify the specific concept of fuel poverty, which is related not only to people's spending priorities but to the condition of their housing and the natural tendency, in a sense, for people who are especially vulnerable, such as the elderly and frail, to be those who live in poor, run-down housing. I assure him not only that a great deal of work has been done to identify the problem of fuel poverty, but that the Government have done much to address it and intend to do more.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)(Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that although many elderly people in my constituency and many other parts of the country have benefited from the programme, some of those most in need fear pressure from doorstep salesmen, because they do not distinguish one thing from another and are afraid that they might be conned into getting into debt, whereas the scheme is designed to help them?

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend makes two important points. First, he is right that over 700,000 households have received assistance from the warm front scheme. Secondly, he is right to identify the concerns felt particularly by some elderly people. I shall take his remarks into account when we consider the design and communication of any new scheme.

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