The geography of vulnerability to fuel poverty: A spatially-orientated analysis of neighbourhoods in England

  • Caitlin Robinson

Student thesis: Phd


As part of a wider ambition to understand issues of energy though a geographical lens, research concerned with fuel poverty, the inability to access the socially and materially necessitated energy services in the home, has become increasingly spatialised. Concepts of vulnerability, justice, capabilities and precarity have positioned fuel poverty as a distinct form of deprivation beyond solely a concern with income, owing to the integral role played by energy-related infrastructures and the social, cultural, ethnic, racial and gender differences in experience of the condition. These debates better illustrate an uneven spatial patchwork of vulnerability to fuel poverty that persists in certain places, by understanding fuel poverty as a geographically-constituted process, rather than a process that simply affects place. However, the spatialities of fuel poverty are rarely a feature on policy agendas. In England, the case study of this thesis, policy narratives have tended to focus upon affordable warmth, a selection of physiologically vulnerable groups and universal income support measures, obscuring the uneven social and spatial determinants of the condition. When informed by concepts of vulnerability and justice, GIS and spatial analysis have the potential to shed light on the spatialities of fuel poverty at high resolutions, including the neighbourhood scale. In particular, spatially-orientated “local” statistics that account for how the phenomenon varies across space can offer deeper insights into the spatial patterns and processes associated. However, this approach has rarely been adopted in existing efforts to quantitatively analyse and map fuel poverty. Drawing inspiration from these new theoretical and methodological agendas, this thesis sheds light on the geographies that underpin the experience of, and vulnerability to, fuel poverty in England. Firstly, the thesis critically analyses the spatial distribution of fuel poverty as understood by existing indicators, before turning its attention to analysing the wider socio-spatial determinants of vulnerability to fuel poverty. New, emerging and established geographical configurations are evidenced and explained, including evidence of vulnerability amongst precarious and transient households and gendered aspects of vulnerability, both of which are less well understood and have only recently emerged as a focus within fuel poverty scholarship. The research demonstrates the contribution that the application of GIS and spatially-orientated methods can make to fuel poverty research, and wider deprivation and vulnerability literatures. The findings have implications for how fuel poverty is tackled by policy makers, recognising the insights that a spatialized approach can offer for targeting and alleviation.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSarah Lindley (Supervisor) & Stefan Bouzarovski (Supervisor)


  • Energy vulnerability
  • Spatial analysis
  • GIS
  • Energy poverty
  • Fuel poverty

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