An early morning train saw me heading to Doncaster for the second of three events sharing results of our Fuel Poverty Research this time with Caroline Flint MP and key stakeholders in her constituency.

The debate was different to Cornwall reflecting the proactive role local authorities, social housing providers and the private sector are playing to cut fuel poverty in the area. A number of new themes emerged.

1) Consistency, consistency, consistency

The detrimental impact of stop-start fuel poverty policies was widely commented upon. It takes time for messages about new initiatives to reach people most in need and even longer to build confidence with that group. Constant change makes it difficult for the public and private sector to plan properly, to deliver effective schemes and to create trust.

Significant changes to benefit schemes were also highlighted as a major risk. People on low incomes have no financial safety net and delays in receiving benefits can quickly tip them into difficulty.

2) Fuel poverty and health

Policies connecting health and fuel poverty are starting to be developed. They include allowing GPs to offer ‘Boilers on Prescription’ when they are concerned that a patient’s health is suffering due to poorly heated homes - this is part of a wider trend towards social prescriptions. This is a positive trend to be applauded, but it is clear that it is far from being fully endorsed by local health professionals. Influential bodies such as the Clinical Commissioning Group are still to grasp the potential and interest from GPs is patchy.

3) The importance of area based schemes

The difficulty in engaging private landlords was recognised but, unlike in Cornwall, there were examples of how this obstacle could be overcome by implementing schemes thoroughly on an area-by-area basis ensuring all households are supported - whether private or public. The move of government policy away from these initiatives to a more piecemeal approach was seen as retrogressive.

4) Connectivity

It was clear from the discussion that even within this one constituency there are a mass of initiatives each being driven from a slightly different starting point. These include local food banks, health initiatives, regeneration programmes, the local fuel poverty strategy, etc. Opportunities exist to enhance the impact of all these activities by creating more connectivity and understanding.

5) Common themes

Despite the different focus of the debate, there were similarities with the Cornish meeting. There is clearly a desire to create local self-help Facebook groups. The local Food Banks believe their role can be extended to cover energy. There was a real concern that people on pre-paid meters are paying more for their energy and the issue of people in mobile or park homes was raised again.

We have one more discussion meeting in East Thanet, Kent. After that debate we will explore whether there are any ways we can help all the constituencies in their attempts to cut fuel poverty.