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A critical analysis of the new politics of fuel poverty in England


A household is fuel poor when it is unable to afford the level of energy services required to allow its members to live a decent life. From 2010 to 2015, the UK government transformed the politics of fuel poverty, with a new definition (‘Low income, high costs’ or LIHC), indicators and targets. Using a subjectivity framework to analyse the government documentation around LIHC, I find that: a distinction between poverty and fuel poverty is reinforced by the new politics, resulting in energy efficiency measures being prioritised as the appropriate solution. The austerity maxim of ‘helping those most in need’ is threaded through this new politics, belying an acceptance that not all fuel poverty can be alleviated. Further, LIHC underplays the role of changing energy costs, which now have no impact on the headline indicator. I argue that this new politics is symbolic, and unlikely to have positive impacts for most fuel poor households.