Household energy affordability remains a significant and unaddressed problem in New Zealand, and many households experience energy service deprivation, finding it difficult to pay expensive electricity bills and keep their homes warm and healthy. In Britain a household is described as in fuel poverty when it would need to spend more than 10% of its income on household energy in order to be adequately warm; many New Zealand households would meet this definition. He Kāinga Oranga is working to better understand the effects of high electricity prices and energy service deprivation on New Zealand houesholds.
Our energy research
- Cool? Exploring fuel poverty with youth
- Nationwide Postal Survey of Electricity Prepayment Meter Consumers
- Metered Out: Household Management of Electricity
- Warm Up New Zealand Evaluation
- Warm Homes for Elder New Zealanders
Fuel poverty has been defined overseas as the inability to acquire adequate household energy services for 10% of household income. This includes everything energy is used for within the home setting, including heating to WHO recommended safe indoor temperatures for health. The World Health Organization has recommended maintaining indoor air temperatures of 18-24oC to protect health for the past 30 years, based on evidence that indoor temperature levels outside this range have negative physiological effects.
Fuel poverty is distinct from income poverty as it requires policy coordination of capital investment to improve building, heating and other appliance efficiency, while income poverty may be addressed through income support.1 Assessing fuel poverty as defined above in a population setting is difficult as it requires information on the contributing factors: income, housing efficiency, energy costs, and indoor temperature.
The adverse health effects of fuel poverty include physiological and psychosocial effects of exposure to cold indoor temperatures. Those most at risk of fuel poverty include families with young children, older people, people with disabilities or ill-health, and the unemployed. These groups spend most of their day at home, so require indoor temperature control for longer than people at work or school.
New Zealand has a high rate of excess winter mortality compared with other OECD countries and fuel poverty is a likely contributor to this. A study linking Census and mortality data showed a statistically increased risk of dying in winter among low-income people, those living in rented accommodation and those living in cities. Households, particularly in the private rental sector, commonly rely on electric space heating which is costly and often ineffective. This combined with a housing stock of poor thermal efficiency contributes to the cold indoor temperatures experienced by many households.
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- World Health Organization. Health impact of low indoor temperatures: Report on a WHO meeting. Copenhagen: WHO, 1987.
- Ormandy D, Ezratty V. Health and thermal comfort: From WHO guidance to housing strategies. Energy Policy, 2012.
- Osman LM, Ayres JG, Garden C, Reglitz K, Lyon J, Douglas JG. Home warmth and health status of COPD patients. The European Journal of Public Health 2008:ckn015v1-ckn15.
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- Marmot Review Team. The Health Impacts of Cold Homes and Fuel Poverty. London: Friends of the Earth and the Marmot Review Team, 2011.
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- Free S, Howden-Chapman P, Pierce N, Viggers H, and the Housing Heating and Health Study Team. More Effective Home Heating Reduces School Absences for Children with Asthma. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2010;64:379-69.
- Morgan R, Blair A, King D. A winter survey of domestic heating among elderly patients. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 1996;89:85-86.
- Wright F. Old and Cold: Older People and Policies Failing to Address Fuel Poverty. Social Policy & Administration 2004;38(5):488-503.
- O’Neill MS, Ebi KL. Temperature Extremes and Health: Impacts of Climate Variability and Change in the United States. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2009;51(1):13-25.
- Harrison M. Defining housing quality and environment: disability, standards and social factors. Housing Studies 2004;19(5):691-708.
- McAvoy H. All-Ireland policy paper on fuel poverty and health. Dublin: Institute of Public Health in Ireland, 2007.
- Davie GS, Baker MG, Hales S, Carlin JB. Trends and determinants of excess winter mortality in New Zealand: 1980 to 2000. Bio Med Central Public Health 2007;7(263).
- Howden-Chapman P, Viggers H, Chapman R, O’Sullivan K, Telfar Barnard L, Lloyd B. Tackling cold housing and fuel poverty in New Zealand: a review of policies, research, and health impacts. Energy Policy, 2011.
- Hales S, Blakely T, Foster RH, Baker MG, Howden-Chapman PL. Seasonal patterns of mortality in relation to social factors. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2010;66(4):379-84.
- Howden-Chapman P, Viggers H, Chapman R, O’Dea D, Free S, O’Sullivan K. Warm homes: drivers of the demand for heating in the residential sector in New Zealand. Energy Policy 2009;37(9):3387-99.
- Howden-Chapman P, Matheson A, Crane J, Viggers H, Cunningham M, Blakely T, et al. Effect of insulating existing houses on health inequality: cluster randomised study in the community. British Medical Journal 2007;334:460-64.
- Lloyd CR, Callau MF, Bishop T, Smith IJ. The efficacy of an energy efficient upgrade program in New Zealand. Energy and Buildings 2008;40(7):1228-39.
Some useful documents
Evaluating the co-benefits of low income energy-efficiency programmes. Dublin workshop 2011