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London fuel poverty up by a fifth

More than half a million households in the capital are in fuel poverty, report says.

One fifth of London households are in fuel poverty -- defined as spending more than 10 per cent of household income on fuel for heating and domestic needs -- and that number is on the rise, a report out today warns.

The London Assembly's report In from the cold? Tackling fuel poverty in London says fuel prices rising faster than incomes are causing Londoners to spend higher percentages of income on fuel, and are causing thousands of additional winter deaths each year.

During the winter months of 2011, 2,500 more people died in London than during the 2010 winter months. Cold homes can contribute to heart attacks and pneumonia, and cost the NHS an estimated £859m annually, the report says.

Health and Public Services committee chair Victoria Borwick AM wrote, in her foreword to report:

Fuel poverty is not just a numerical formula: living in fuel poverty means being cold. While the rest of us watch the weather forecast and can turn up the thermostat, this is not the case for thousands of homes across London. Fuel poverty affects the most vulnerable, often the elderly and those who are already having difficulty making ends meet... Eat or heat is the choice for many, and for those whose homes are also in poor repair with damp seeping through, health can also be affected, and long term debilitating conditions exacerbated.

In 2008, 472,000 London households were in fuel poverty. That number rose by 19 per cent to 560,000 in 2009, and today's report says the number has since risen.

Of the London households in fuel poverty today, an estimated 126,400 are in severe fuel poverty, or spending more than 20 per cent of household income on heating and domestic fuel needs.

The report recommends energy companies provide funding for energy efficiency programmes, which can help households get loft insulation and provide additional support for those in fuel poverty. The report also calls for targets for future government funding of such programmes.

Each year from 2004 to 2009, domestic energy prices rose faster than the Retail Prices Index (RPI). Over that period, fuel prices rose 90 per cent against an RPI rise of 15 per cent.