Posted: 03 February 2014

Cold Homes Week: Tackling the scourge of fuel poverty

This week, the Energy Bill Revolution, of which we are a member, will highlight the issue of fuel poverty. Launching today, Cold Homes Week will call on the government to help the most vulnerable, fuel poor, households. This follows shocking new figures which show that 2.2 million children in England are now living in fuel poverty - an alarming increase of 26% in the last year alone.

At The Children’s Society, we see the energy bill crisis facing families who struggle to heat their homes. Our new report, Behind Cold Doors: The chilling reality for children in poverty, reveals that nearly three million families are likely to cut back on food this winter so they can pay their energy bills. Shockingly, as temperatures plunge, two-thirds of parents living in the UK - that’s five million families - are likely to turn their heating down during the winter months because they can’t afford it.

Fuel poverty is one of the greatest scourges of our time. Parents are often forced to spend their days in public buildings just to keep warm. Heating a home can also drive families into debt. Our report found that around half a million families could be forced to take a loan out this winter to help them with their heating costs.  

More than half of the families that have to lower their heating because of the cost say they are worried that their children will become ill because it makes their home too cold.

Please join in and use our online form to ask the government to ensure no child’s health suffers because of a cold home.

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No child should have to grow up in a cold home

One important measure of support available is the warm home discount scheme. This is a £135 rebate from energy companies to low-income, vulnerable households in need of help with their energy costs. However, our report shows that nearly two million children living in families in poverty will miss out on this vital lifeline this winter.

Why is this happening?

While low-income pensioners automatically get this support, disadvantaged families with children need to apply for help from their supplier. Even then, the decision whether to provide support is at the discretion of the energy companies, and they use different criteria to decide whether struggling families receive it or not. Two-thirds of children living in poverty are now in working households. Yet three out of six of the warm home discount schemes exclude low-income families. 

Solutions are possible

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Solutions are possible.

One simple step the government can take is to make sure all children living in families in poverty automatically get the warm home discount. For example, eligibility could be based on families receiving child tax credit and earnings of less than £10,000 per year.  This would mean an extra 3.3 million children (1.7 million low-income households) would get this vital lifeline to help heat their homes.

This is one way to end the scandal of parents having to make the agonising choice of heating their home or putting food on the table for their children.

To find out more about fuel poverty, get involved in Cold Homes Week, and visit our blog later this week for more on the warm home discount.

More than half of the families that have to lower their heating because of the cost say they are worried that their children will become ill because it makes their home too cold.

We are working to make sure that the government ensures that no child's health suffers because of a cold home - please tell your MP how important this issue is.

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By Andrew Cooper - Policy team

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