The human impacts of fuel poverty - assisting those most in need
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Ulster
Unit of AssessmentPsychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Summary Impact TypeEconomic
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Economics: Applied Economics
Law and Legal Studies: Other Law and Legal Studies
Summary of the impact
The UK has some of the highest levels of fuel poverty worldwide, with
Northern Ireland being worst affected (Liddell, 2012). As a psychologist,
Professor Liddell has helped transform the issue of fuel poverty from one
concerned with housing to one that focuses on human impacts. Her
research led to a greater focus on infants and children living in fuel
poverty, a group hitherto largely excluded from the literature. She was
also the first to analyse the mental health benefits of tackling fuel
poverty, which are now integral to the rationale of all the UK's regional
fuel poverty strategies. Finally, new methods for targeting resources to
those in most need have been implemented as a direct result of her
research on area-based tools.
Fuel poverty occurs when a household cannot afford to heat their home to
the standard which the World Health Organization (WHO) considers safe for
human wellbeing. WHO set this standard in 1984, because it had become
evident that cold homes were associated with significant physical
health risks among adults who were prone to cardiovascular and respiratory
In 2008, Christine Liddell was commissioned by Save The Children (STC) to
investigate impacts of fuel poverty among children. Her report was the
first to emphasise the additional risks that cold homes create for infants
and children, and to highlight the extent to which risks for this group
could generate a cycle of cumulative health deficit across the lifespan
(Liddell, 2008). This work also documented the extent to which
governments' fuel poverty strategy — in GB, Northern Ireland and Ireland —
had neglected young people in the development and implementation of their
action plans around cold homes.
This research was also able to demonstrate how targeting resources
towards young people might generate long-term health benefits and
therefore long-term health savings for government. This was made
explicit in a cost-benefit analysis which the Department for Social
Development Northern Ireland (DSDNI) commissioned her to undertake that
same year (Liddell, 2008). Later, Liddell became part of a team funded by
the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) which undertook a
confidential cost-benefit analysis of tackling fuel poverty in England.
Soon after publication of the STC report, a grant from Northern Ireland
Chest Heart and Stroke charity facilitated her in-depth research into
excess winter mortality, which ultimately led to an invitation from the
Surgeon General NI to contribute a chapter to his annual report (Morris
& Liddell, 2011)
In a 2010 paper, Liddell's team widened their scope, highlighting the
wide variety of links between fuel poverty and mental wellbeing,
concluding that the evidence base for risks to mental health was
even more compelling than the evidence base linking fuel poverty with
physical health risks (Liddell & Morris, 2010). Impacts on mental
health are now noted as underpinning rationales for Fuel Poverty
Strategies in all 4 regions of the UK.
As a result of growing austerity measures, there has been increasing
interest at government level in targeting resources towards people most in
need. Liddell's research played a pivotal role in developing new
area-based targeting tools through which people in the most extreme forms
of fuel poverty could be identified in Northern Ireland, a group hitherto
labelled "hard to reach". The area-based approach was first
outlined in the team's independent review of fuel poverty (Liddell,
Morris, McKenzie & Rae, 2011). It was then further developed through
metric analysis (Liddell, Morris, McKenzie & Rae, 2012), before being
evaluated in the field, in partnership with 18 District Councils (Walker,
McKenzie, Liddell & Morris, 2012).
As well as developing new targeting tools, the team also analysed the
targeting efficacy of previous approaches to tackling fuel poverty, using
this analysis to point towards improved implementation and practice
(Walker, Liddell, McKenzie & Morris, 2013). This research led to DSDNI
inviting all 26 Councils in Northern Ireland to augment their traditional
approaches to tackling fuel poverty by using the new methods outlined in
the paper (se Appendix 1).
References to the research
Liddell, C. (2012) Fuel Poverty Comes of Age: Commemorating 21 Years of
Research and Policy. Energy Policy, 49, 2-5.
* Liddell, C. & Morris, C. (2010) Fuel poverty and human health: a
review of recent evidence. Energy Policy, 38, 2987-2997.
Liddell, C. Morris, C. McKenzie, SJP & Rae, G. (2012). Measuring and
monitoring fuel poverty in the UK: National and regional perspectives.
Energy Policy, 49, 27-32.
Morris, C. & Liddell, C. (2011) Seasonality of mortality in Northern
Ireland. Annual Report of the Surgeon General. Belfast: Northern Ireland
Statistics and Research Agency. (Invited report).
* Walker, R. McKenzie, SJP. Liddell, C. & Morris, C. (2012)
Area-based targeting of fuel poverty in Northern Ireland: An
evidenced-based approach. Applied Geography, 34, 639-649.
* Walker, R. Liddell, C. McKenzie, SJP. & Morris, C. (2013) Targeting
fuel poverty programmes to those most in need: an evidence-based analysis
of Northern Ireland's Fuel Poverty Strategy 2001-2012. Energy Policy, 63,
* Three top references.
Details of the impact
4.1. Health inequity impacts through partnerships with Government
& Regulatory Bodies
"My Department has responsibility for energy efficiency in the home,
the DHHSP has responsibility for health-related issues — a significant
report was carried out by Dr Liddell into the matter." (Minister
Margaret Ritchie, DSDNI, 2008)
"I have found the evidence presented by Professor Liddell in this area
very compelling." (Minister Nelson McCausland, DSDNI 2009).
Commissioned by Department for Social Development (DSDNI) to make
recommendations for strategy. Key recommendations subsequently
adopted into NI's Fuel Poverty Strategy 2011:
- A stronger focus on the wellbeing benefits associated with
tackling fuel poverty
- A title for the Strategy which emphasises health (Warmer Healthier
- Tackling but also preventing fuel poverty
- Targeting those most in need first:
"Professor Liddell has been working with the Department intensively to
bring in a sound evidence-based approach, and this says that we need to
identify those in greatest levels of fuel poverty...We have to deal with
those who have the greatest problems, and her work is focused on that."
(Minister Nelson McCausland, DSDNI in Hansard 2013)
Commissioned by DSDNI Committee to assist in the development of a new
Ministerial Cross-Sectoral Advisory Group on Fuel Poverty. Launched
at Stormont in autumn 2011, Liddell was the sole Keynote speaker (see
Appendix 2). Coupled with previously mentioned support from Minister
Ritchie (SDLP party), and Minister McCausland (DUP party), this additional
support from the DSD Committee which is led by Alex Maskey (Sinn Féin)
means that the research has garnered evidence-based cross-party support in
Northern Ireland's Legislative Assembly.
Core expert on Excess Winter Deaths for NICE
Commissioned by Public Health Agency NI to write their Cold
Weather Good Practice Guide
Liddell's cost-benefit analysis cited 228 times (e.g. Chief
Medical Officer (England), the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Assembly,
Number of families assisted by DSDNI has increased by 50% since Save
The Children report (NIHE, 2001 to 2011 House Condition Surveys).
Number of "false positives" in Warm Homes installations reduced by
three quarters http://www.ofmdfmni.gov.uk/tackling-fuel-poverty-in-ni-liddell-lagdon.pdf
"The university evaluation of the pilot estimates that one in two of
households contacted proved to be eligible for assistance from the warm
homes scheme. A lot of the work was done in cooperation with Professor
Liddell, and it directed us to area-based work, which seems to be much
more productive in comparison with how things were being done. From the
initial positive results, we have moved to phase 2, which is to test
that energy-efficiency measures can be delivered. (Minister Nelson
McCausland, DSDNI, in Hansard, 2013)
Developed NI's Code of Practice for Smart Meter Installers,
and the training package associated with it.
Commissioned by the Utility Regulator to lead the region's first smart
"The findings of her research were significantly important, especially
when considering future interventions and care for those living in fuel
poverty. She collaborated with suppliers, meter manufacturers and my
team to ensure everything was compliant."
(Tom Doran, Learning and Development Manager, Northern Ireland
4.2. Support for local businesses
Capacity-building sub-contracts for local energy agencies
(£60,000) have been generated in the past 2 years (see Figure 1 for
Through partnership with DSDNI and 16 Councils, local plumbers, heating
engineers and boiler installers have worked in 1,500 homes of people
in extreme fuel poverty, installing efficiency measures to the value of
£400,000 in the first Phase of the project's rollout.
"The findings of the various projects she has worked on fed directly
into the Division business plan and the 2011 Fuel Poverty Strategy".
(Eilish O'Neill, Housing Development Manager, DSDNI)
4.3. Partnerships with NGO's, charities and advisory groups
Bryson Energy (Northern Ireland's largest social enterprise) and
Liddell currently work on 5 projects, commissioned by the Oak Foundation
through a £1M grant:
"Professor Liddell has greatly assisted Bryson Energy...she has trained
our staff in professional report-writing and research. As well as
building confidence amongst staff, the training has resulted in
significant successes in tender applications. She has also assisted us
in the development of materials for use by the general public around
areas such as brokering, health and retrofit."
(Nigel Brady, Director Bryson Energy)
Three projects completed in collaboration with National Energy Action
NI, the region's largest fuel poverty charity:
"Her experience of real world issues brings a sense of reality to her
content, and her contribution is also inspirational leading to debate,
participant engagement, and change."
(Paul Wallace, Development Manager, NEA NI)
Served on the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group NI since 2008
"I was pleased that the Department provided funding for the research
carried out through Professor Christine Liddell. I strongly recommend
that readers refer to the summary document of this work. I have no doubt
that its content will be exercising the collective minds of the FPAG as
we approach another winter."
(Chair, Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, in FPAG Annual
Reviewing the overall impact of her work in
2013, the former Chief Executive of the Office for the Regulation of
Electricity and Gas in Northern Ireland, Douglas McIldoon, commented:
"Christine has been a much availed of resource to the entire fuel
poverty community — from non-governmental organisations to Ministers and
their advisers. She is much more than a rigorously objective academic
researcher — though she is that as well. She has a real world engagement
with her subject matter. Her work is practical and focussed on finding
and testing solutions to problems. Christine clearly believes sound
policies are more likely to follow if evidence produced by research is
widely disseminated, thoroughly understood, and properly debated at
every level and by all stakeholders. Northern Ireland is fortunate in
having an academic researcher who combines the highest standard of
research and analysis with a strong commitment to the public good".
Sources to corroborate the impact
1. Hansard and other Parliamentary Assembly sources
(page WA 306)
- Letter from the Learning and Development Manager, Northern Ireland
- Letter from the Manager of the Housing Division, Department for Social
- Letter from the Director of Bryson Energy
- Letter from Chief Executive of the Office for the Regulation of
electricity and Gas in Northern Ireland (2003-2005)
- Letter from the General Manager of Energy Action Limited