Fuel Poverty and Homelessness: Exploring the extremes of the Cost of Living crisis

News | Posted on Monday 19 February 2024

The University of York’s Cost of Living research group has published a new report exploring the link between fuel poverty and homelessness.

The cost of living crisis has had a profound impact on the UK, deepening destitution and poverty for those on the lowest incomes and in the most vulnerable situations, whilst tipping some households that were previously managing to get by into poverty for the first time.

There is now growing evidence from within the housing and energy sectors that the cost of living crisis, and the energy crisis in particular, are closely linked to homelessness. To date there has been little academic, empirical evidence on the relationship between fuel poverty and homelessness. This project, funded by the University of York’s Cost of Living Group, and written by researchers within the School of Business and Society, addresses this gap.

The core findings of the research indicate that:

  1. The cost of living crisis, and energy crisis in particular, has been the ‘last straw’ for many people who were previously struggling with housing costs. 
  2. The impact that the cost of living crisis has had on service delivery is profound, hampering efforts to address homelessness services which have already seen deep cuts in funding since 2010. 
  3. Policy responses to the cost of living crisis are extremely limited in terms of impact. Interviewees have described them as reactive and poorly targeted, with a very limited ‘sticking plaster’ effect. 

Read the full report: Fuel Poverty and Homelessness report (PDF , 564kb)

A policy brief written to support the research recommends the following responses to the crisis:

  1. An urgent review of existing and future contracts for funding homelessness services to ensure that they can meet rising costs.
  2. Energy related tariffs, discounts and benefits should be reformed to ensure that those in greatest need are given the greatest protection.
  3. Reforms to the welfare system and social housing supply need to address the underlying causes of fuel poverty and homelessness at the systemic level. Reforms to ensure that payments such as Universal Credit are sufficient to cover energy, food, and housing costs are vital. 

Read the policy brief: Homelessness and Fuel Poverty policy brief (PDF , 364kb)

Researcher and report author, Professor Carolyn Snell, Professor of Social Policy at the University of York, said: “The research indicates that this is not a short-term issue, and nor has it come from nowhere. Indeed, energy prices have been rising sharply for three years. Moreover, the current ‘crisis’ is grounded in longstanding problems such as substantial cuts to services, existing inequalities within the energy market, punitive welfare reforms, and poor building conditions.

“The overriding sense within the data presented here is that already seriously under-resourced services are presented with still greater challenges in maintaining quality, reach, and intensity, and are under pressure to become more crisis based.

Professor Nicholas Pleace, Centre for Housing Policy at York, said: “Homelessness services, which were already managing very significant cuts to funding since 2010, have often had to absorb additional costs with little or no financial additional assistance. Without addressing the need for increases in social housing supply and proper funding of homelessness services, these issues are likely to endure.”