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


  • Ben Christman Queen’s University Belfast
  • Hannah Russell Queen’s University Belfast



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.

Author Biographies

Ben Christman, Queen’s University Belfast

Ben Christman is a third-year PhD candidate in the School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast. His research examines legal responses to fuel poverty in the UK from an energy justice perspective.

Hannah Russell, Queen’s University Belfast

Hannah Russell has recently completed doctoral research at the School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast entitled ‘The right to life under Article 2 of the ECHR in light of European conflicts’. She has also been contracted by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to assist its work on poverty and the right to an adequate standard of living.