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Reflections on the Trust’s roundtable: a manifesto for change

A blog from Leon Ward, Chief Executive Officer of My BnK

MyBnk is the UK’s largest financial education charity and as such we were delighted to be able to participate in the British Gas Energy Trust roundtable in Glasgow. We were asked to share our own reflections on the impact of our Fuel Finance programme which neatly blends financial literacy with energy education. This programme is designed to help young people explore their relationship with energy and energy bills. Wider than this, all MyBnk’s programmes focus on energy usage and utility bills in one way or another; teaching young people to understand their priority debts, to shop around, to explore fixing their energy, to maximise their income and to control, as much as they can, their usage.

Setting the scene made for sober reading:

  • 31% of Scottish households are in fuel poverty; increasing to 41% in rural communities
  • Average household energy debt in Scotland is £2300 increasing to £3047 in rural Scotland
  • 6 million households across the UK are in energy poverty

In response, this roundtable reemphasised the complexity of fuel poverty and the needs for wholesale reform to address the energy perma-crisis.

Good practice; systemic problems

The roundtable attendees were a group of people representing a diverse set of organisations working on the frontline to tackle fuel poverty every day. We heard from many practitioners that have an armoury of tried and tested interventions which deliver positive outcomes for people, including financial education, debt advice, income maximisation, money grants and place-based interventions. There are gaps in the provision, but we heard anecdotes of partnership working to try to comprehensively support clients. Within the first 15 minutes of the roundtable, it became very clear and universally accepted; there is a need for wide systemic change to truly address fuel poverty.

One person said, “the cheapest energy you have, is the energy you don’t use”.
Usage is one of four drivers of fuel poverty. Cutting energy usage is the natural attractive answer when exploring fuel poverty. But one participant set the scene by making it clear that the people struggling the most with energy costs are those who are underusing it; these are people that have already cut their usage to the bare bones. I was able to recount the story of a young girl telling our MyBnk Scotland team that her family huddle around the oven to use the residual heat created.

Manifesto for change

What followed was an informal idea of a manifesto for change that would deliver for communities across Britain; a response to the four drivers of fuel poverty and against the backdrop of a general election year:

  • Reformation of energy tariffs including the introduction of social tariffs
  • Increase in dynamic pricing tariffs to allow and ‘reward’ people to shift their usage with cheaper energy when the grid is at it’s greenest
  • Cheaper energy for the communities that produce energy
  • Insulate and improve housing stock
  • Landlords to comply with regulations designed to cut usage and drive efficiency
  • Fund ‘what works’ and for longer periods of time

Is the future bright?

One reflection I had; it did feel like people were disenchanted with talking about solutions that were first aired over a decade ago. Every member around the table shared statistics and stories that paint a damning picture. We were able to share our own silver linings but what we now need is massive amounts of effort from Government, the energy regulator and the energy providers to make a real and lasting difference.
I believe that change is on the horizon for a brighter future for all, and until then, I take comfort in knowing so many people and organisations are out there doing what they can.

Read more about the roundtables here.