13 Jan 2014

More than three million families are likely to cut back on food so they can pay their energy bills this winter, The Children’s Society reveals today.

And more than half of the five million families that are likely to turn their heating down because of the cost are worried that their children will become ill as a result, the nationwide survey, jointly produced with the Daily Mirror, shows.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, calls the situation for these children 'a scandal' and that it is a duty of our society to care for one another, whether young or old.

Cold conditions can increase the chances of children having respiratory and other health problems. In extreme cases, these health conditions may contribute to children’s deaths. New figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 110 more deaths among children in winter 2011-12 than at other points that year (1).

For many families turning the heating on is driving them into debt. About 500,000 families said they would likely have to take a loan out this winter in order to help them with the costs of heating their home.

The Children’s Society is calling on the government to help tackle this problem by making the Warm Home Discount – a £135 discount on energy bills for low income families - automatically available to all families with children living in poverty.

As our new report, Behind Cold Doors: The chilling reality for children in poverty shows, nearly two million children in poverty are currently living in families  that do not get this crucial support.

And 3.6 million children say their homes are too cold -- 1.3 million said their home had damp or mould.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said: 'It is a scandal that millions of children in this country are being forced to live in cold, damp homes. Parents are being forced to choose between the basics – food or warmth. In a society where all people are valued, whether they are old or young, it is our duty to care for one another. It’s never been more important for families in poverty to receive this vital support. This report from the Children’s Society gets it right – I hope it leads to a change of heart! All children are our national treasure.'

The Children’s Society Chief Executive, Matthew Reed said: 'It is unacceptable that any child in this country is growing up in a cold home, the scale of the problem, as these figures show, is shocking.

'It’s alarming that three million families will be cutting back on food so they can pay their energy bills this winter. A new ‘heat or eat’ generation is growing up in Britain, as families desperately struggle to make ends meet. But something can be done about this immediately. Urgent action is needed now to make sure all children in poverty can have a warm home,' he said.

This saving on their energy bills provided by the Warm Home Discount is critical to making sure that those most in need can keep their homes warm, and help put an end to parents having to make harsh choices between the basics.

Ends

Media enquiries

For more information, please call Beth Herzfeld in The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422, 07775 812 357 or email beth.herzfeld@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to editors

  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2011 adults of which 468 respondents had children aged under 18years living in their household. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22 and 25 November 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
  • The Warm Home Discount provides £135 towards energy bills for low income, vulnerable households. Large energy companies are required to provide and fund this payment. Low income pensioners automatically get this amount deducted from their bill. A broader group of claimants from vulnerable households is eligible, within limits, at the discretion of their energy supplier. This group needs to apply to their supplier to get it. Even if they are eligible, the energy company is not obliged to provide the discount in every case, as the amount of support available is limited.
  • See Behind Cold Doors: The chilling reality for children in poverty
  • Six in 10 children living in poverty are in low-income working families.
  • The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life.

(1) There were 110 more child deaths in December 2011 to March 2012 compared to the average of August to November 2011, and April to July 2012.