2. The Evidence Base
As already noted, the literature on fuel poverty draws heavily on quantitative research (Middlemiss & Gillard 2015), which means the body of literature using qualitative approaches is relatively small. This review focusses on qualitative or mixed methods studies only, where some or all of the research participants lived in Scotland. Occasional reference is made to England-based studies where findings are additional to those discussed in the Scottish studies but are likely to be relevant. References and a summary of methodology is provided in the Appendix.
Lived experience research has its origins in phenomenology. It is concerned with how an individual experiences and makes sense of a given phenomenon, and how they respond to such experiences. Lived experience is embodied and situated, and rooted in the everyday, and research into lived experience requires an in-depth qualitative approach that takes account of its complexity and nuance. See Appendix for more information on the philosophy and methodology of lived experience research.
2.1 Type of research
Qualitative studies operationalise the construct of fuel poverty in various ways, with researchers recruiting participants using proxies such as low income, or targeting groups deemed to be 'at risk' or households identified by third parties such as social landlords as being fuel poor. A summary is provided in the Appendix for the research reviewed in this paper. Few qualitative researchers use the official measure in recruiting and selecting participants due to the fact that gaining accurate information about income and household costs is both intrusive and time-consuming (Butler & Sheriff 2017).
In the literature reviewed for this paper, the profile of research participants varied considerably - some studies focussed on particular groups such as women, refugees, older people or households with members with disability or long-term health condition. Some studies also conducted research with energy advisors, landlords and other stakeholders. Study samples included specific geographical communities in Scotland, members of particular groups from across Scotland, and Scotland-based participants in wider UK studies. With the latter, it is not always possible to extract Scotland-specific findings. Some studies focussed on households with particular fuel types or dwelling types generally regarded as difficult to heat or to treat with regards to improving energy efficiency. Within the literature, there are also studies that investigate poverty or energy efficiency more generally, with fuel poverty as one aspect of the research.
The studies are mostly cross-sectional (data gathered at one specific point in time) but there is also some longitudinal research.
A variety of techniques were used to recruit participants including use of 'trusted intermediaries' such as community-based energy advocacy services (e.g. Baker et al 2019; De Haro & Koslowski 2013), and housing associations or health workers (e.g. Middlemiss & Gillard 2015). One study recruited sample from respondents to the SHCS (Ipsos MORI & Sheldrick 2017).
One study used people from the local community with lived experience of fuel poverty to conduct interviews in their community. The interviewers, who received training and were remunerated for their work, also served as key gatekeepers, recruiting participants to the study. They also inputted to development of the interview schedule and to the subsequent analysis (De Haro & Koslowski 2013). The community-based interviewers were recruited by a local intermediary organisation.
2.2 Limitations and assumptions
As with all qualitative research, the findings are not intended to be generalizable to the whole population. However, there is an assumption that themes and issues that affect participants are likely to be a reflection of wider concerns.
Some individual studies have methodological limitations such as time of year when the interviews were conducted. In summer months, participants may not talk about issues relating to cold and damp as much, however this does allow for energy practices other than heating, such as cooking, cleaning and entertainment, to have more prominence. A few of the studies are fairly old e.g. 2004 and as there have been some changes in the policy and social context since then, some findings may no longer apply. As previously noted, three studies have been included that are not based on research undertaken in Scotland, and although the findings are likely to be relevant it is possible that they do not apply in the Scottish context.