Poverty harming UK’s chances of reaching net-zero

Unfortunately, the word ‘poverty’ is one with which we are all too familiar and conjures up images of people, often children, in far off lands struggling to survive in poor economic situations.

Sadly, while the UK is considered an affluent country with a stable economy, we also suffer our own levels of relative poverty.

And while it is driven by money – or lack of it – that poverty extends into broad areas of everyday life, underpinned by financial hardship but impacting key areas which affect the ability to access the most effective and efficient ways of living in the 21st century.

Take fuel poverty for example. National Energy Action, which campaigns to end fuel poverty, estimates 12,000 people die each year from health conditions arising or worsening from having a cold home.

The elderly are often the victims as homes of retired people typically have the highest fuel costs.

But they are not always on the most cost-efficient tariffs for their energy supplies and can be unable or unwilling to change supplier or payment plan.

Some of the cheapest – and often most sustainable tariffs which offer renewable energy options in the price band – are only available online and significant numbers of older people still have no internet access.

Which brings us to the next form of linked poverty – digital poverty which has been compounded by the COVID crisis with increasing rates of goods and services only being available online.

Much has been said and written about the great digital divide harming schoolchildren’s education levels with access to learning during the past year’s lockdowns dependent on their ability to get online from home.

But that poverty extends to young people and adults and impacts various elements of their life too, particularly in relation to environmental concerns and issues of sustainability.

Aside from lack of access to cost-effective fuel rates, a household in digital poverty – unable to afford to pay for regular online connection fees – cannot take advantage of any type of ‘smart’ devices in their home such as meters designed to make energy efficiencies in a building.

Equally, they will not have routine access to online education around the whole environment and sustainability debate, learning what new solutions – often inexpensive – are available on the market.

Jobs in the sustainability industry will probably only appear in online forums so people unable to access the internet will be excluded from applying.

For the UK to move to net-zero as planned, it is crucial that these areas of poverty are tackled by successive governments to allow the maximum number of people possible to play their part in reducing our carbon footprint and lead more sustainable lifestyles.