Posted: 19 February 2016

The families behind fuel poverty statistics

We recently released Making a House a Home: Providing Affordable Warmth Solutions for Children and Families Living in Fuel Poverty, a report that details the findings of a year-long study we conducted with National Energy Action. The aim of the study was to explore fuel poverty’s effects on families with dependent children and to consider the effects of intervening to alleviate it. 

Fuel poverty affects over two million households in England and more than four million across the UK. Almost one in five (18%) households with a child under 16 live in fuel poverty and the risk increases for lone parent households, one in four of whom are fuel poor.

Behind these statistics are real families juggling everyday life and struggling to cope with the cold and related problems with damp, mould, rot and laundry.

Making a House a Home, originally commissioned by National Grid Affordable Warmth Solutions, takes you behind the statistics, into the lives of our most fuel-vulnerable neighbours. It introduces you to families like the Williams, who contend with the many effects of fuel poverty each winter.

Small things dominate everyday life

In Making a House a Home, I argue that families living in fuel poverty are not passive victims of these effects. Instead, they are actively engaged in trying to keep homes and bodies warm and minds intact, in trying to treat damp, prevent rot, tackle mould, dry clothes and perform magic with household finances.

The report also illustrates that these families’ relentless efforts to cope with fuel poverty rarely result in success.

In contending with one aspect of the problem, families undermine their own efforts to cope with other aspects. To stay warm people purchase secondary heating devices, but thereby weaken household budgets that are already vulnerable. This is just one example amongst many. Through each act, people become unwitting architects of their own struggles.

In trying to cope, everyday life also becomes dominated by the small things – the ‘nagging’, the bickering over heat, the penny-pinching, the planning, the masking of damp and rot. And these ‘small’ things dominate everyday life in the cold months.

Families can thrive

We need to intervene. When we do, families keep warm, dry and in better health. Stress around the lack of affordable warmth subsides and people get along better. Household finances can stretch beyond energy and bare essentials.

The small problems can be put in their proper place and people can enjoy more control in their everyday lives. Resources become available for coping with the big things – the bullying, the heartbreak, the bereavement – and for pursuing dreams. And people can be themselves, contributing and making others proud. Families can thrive.

In Making a House a House a Home we suggest steps for policy makers to take in tackling fuel poverty. Above all, we urge people to think about the families behind the statistics and the difference that intervening can make to their lives.

Read our report

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Warm homes for all children and families in poverty

Posted: 13 January 2014

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Making a house a home: Providing affordable warmth solutions for children and families living in fuel poverty

Posted: 9 February 2016