Living Through Fuel Poverty: Archival Analysis as a Call for Change

About the project or challenge area

In March 2023, the House of Commons Library research estimated that around 13% households in England were classed as fuel poor, 25% in Scotland, 14% in Wales, and 24% in Northern Ireland. Media and political debate tends to position this as an entirely ‘new’ issue: with households facing ‘a ‘winter like never before’ or suddenly ‘plunged’ in to fuel poverty. Debates about whether this issue is ‘new’ are not merely academic, but shape the solutions proposed and help given. In March 2023, Conservative party deputy chairman, Lee Anderson, said that those struggling with the cost of living were ‘more resourceful in the past’, for example.

This project will involve detailed qualitative archival research, to make visible the experiences of fuel poverty over time and space. The researcher may visit archives in person, or rely on the rich online resources of, for example, Mass Observation. Rich available testimonies will illuminate how fuel poverty has affected people across their lives, in different areas, and from different demographic groups. This will show the distinctiveness of this moment of fuel poverty, in comparison to historical energy crises and transitions (e.g. 1970’s electricity shortages), and contribute to efforts to foreground lived experience of fuel poverty in practice (Middlemiss and Gillard 2015).

Why choose this project?

Attending closely to these differences, and taking this lived experience seriously, has the potential to make radical interventions in present-centred debates. Such work can help illuminate, for example, how different groups have experienced and managed fuel poverty in the past; the sacrifices made by individuals within homes and families; the policy measures which have been more or less effective; and the ways in which groups may feel pressured to reveal or conceal the lived impact of such challenges on their lives. The results will also further understanding of how households might experience future low carbon energy transitions.

The supervisors for this project – Jenny Crane and Caitlin Robinson – will work carefully with the chosen researcher to help them to maximise the impact of this work, drawing on our own backgrounds in public and policy partnership. For example, we will connect you with Policy@Bristol, who will support you to write a policy-relevant brief about this work, and we will, depending on what your research findings, help you to organise relevant events, networks, or further policy briefs to share its findings. This is likely to be successful, due to the significance of this issue at present, and the near total-lack of a historical perspective in current debate.

The supervisors have worked extensively in the past with a range of media and policy partners, including IPPR North, Kings Fund, NHS England, National Energy Action; National Grid; UK2070; Local Authorities; national and local radio and newspapers/

About you

We welcome candidates with an interest in this area. There are no strict criteria for admissions, and we welcome all applications, though candidates will potentially have a background either in archival research, studying energy, poverty, or policy and public engagement work.

Candidates will benefit from one-to-one training and advice from the supervisors, who are fully trained in a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods, and teach these to undergraduate and postgraduate students. Supervisors can also connect the researcher with relevant experts in the School of Geographical Sciences, if further advice is needed, where we have, for example, experts in historical archival analysis, policy engagement and impact, and energy geographies. If needed, we can see if candidates can attend skills training already established in our School for undergraduate and postgraduate students, and can also signpost students to relevant events run by scholarly societies.

How to apply

All students can apply using the button below, following the Admissions Statement (PDF, 188kB). Please note that this is an advertised project, which means you only have to complete Section A of the Research Statement.

This project is not funded, for further details please use this link.

Before applying, we recommend getting in touch with the project's supervisors. If you are interested in this project and would like to learn more about the research you will be undertaking, please use the contact details on this page.


Your supervisor for this project will be Dr Jennifer Crane, in the School of Geographical Sciences. Email:

School of Geographical Sciences Supervisor

2nd Supervisor for this project is Caitlin Robinson in the School of Geographical Sciences. Email:

Find out more about your prospective research community

The Low Carbon Energy theme is a vibrant community of researchers who integrate expertise across multiple disciplines to develop sustainable energy policy and technologies which are crucial to providing a safe, reliable and low-cost energy supply for a growing global population. We innovate in every part of the energy system, from generation and storage, to regulation and end-user demand Find out more about the Low Carbon Energy theme.

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