Readjusting the political thermostat: fuel poverty and human rights in the UK

Ben Christman, Hannah Russell


Fuel poverty − the inability to afford adequate warmth in the home − is a widespread problem across the UK. Cold, damp homes are detrimental to human health and contribute to thousands of ‘excess winter deaths’ every year. This article analyses fuel poverty from a human rights perspective – asking whether it engages human rights protections. It first discusses the definition, scale and health impacts of the problem.
Second, it explores the relationship between fuel poverty and the rights contained within the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Social Charter. It concludes that fuel poverty readily engages rights to adequate housing, food and health and certain civil and political rights in extreme circumstances. It discusses the legal implications of these findings for fuel poverty policy, arguing for a ‘human rights approach’ to tackling the problem. These conclusions focus on the particularly drastic fuel poverty situation in the UK, but can also be applied globally to the various nations where citizens suffer similar problems and extend to the wider debate on the
relationship between poverty and human rights.

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