Research released by ACE Research and the Energy Bill Revolution has revealed that the number of children living in fuel poverty in the UK is now estimated to be 2.2 million, an increase of 460,000 from the same time last year.
The research has been published as part of Cold Homes Week (3-7th February) – part of the Energy Bill Revolution campaign which calls for more to be done to help people struggling to stay warm and healthy in cold homes. The campaign wants funds generated through carbon taxes levied on companies to be spent directly on improving the efficiency of our homes – making a long-term difference to the lives of millions of people.
According to the campaign, “the sky high fuel poverty figures are a result of high energy bills, cuts to Government support for the fuel poor and the woeful standards of insulation of Britain’s homes.”
In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, many families are at risk as energy prices continue to rise, putting a squeeze on already tight budgets. The situation is made worse by the large number of solid-walled properties, which are difficult to insulate, and the fact that around 50% of properties are off the mains gas network and reliant on more expensive forms of heating. Cornwall’s elderly population and issues associated with rural isolation also make fuel poverty a pressing concern for many.
Community Energy Plus is an independent charity and social enterprise working to help householders in Cornwall enjoy warmer, energy efficient homes. Chief Executive Dr Tim Jones voiced concerns about the rising levels of fuel poverty unearthed by the study, and the potential impact on children in particular.
“Just like the elderly and those with existing health issues, children living in cold homes are at increased risk. At the most vulnerable end of the spectrum the health impacts, particularly for very young children, could be wide-reaching. Visits to hospitals and doctors surgeries increase in fuel-poor households and underlying health problems are made worse by the cold. Educational attainment can be affected and nutritional standards may be poor as parents face daily decisions between heating and eating.”
To illustrate this, the study found that 48% of those surveyed had cut back on spending such as clothing, food shopping and school equipment to pay their heating bill.
The problem is vast, however it is generally recognised that a long-term solution does exist. By investing in housing stock to improve its energy efficiency – chiefly through insulation measures – heat leakage could be drastically reduced. This would help bring bills under control and protect householders against future price rises.
However rates of loft and cavity wall insulation have fallen rapidly and the mass roll-out of external wall insulation schemes is being severely compromised.
“The government’s insulation ambitions are in jeopardy in light of recent reductions to ECO – the Energy Company Obligation – which channelled funds into energy efficiency improvements,” explained Dr Jones. “These sobering figures demonstrate that the lack of support for insulation schemes is having severe consequences for low income families. We’re supporting Cold Homes Week to call for some clarity and a long-term approach from the government to tackling the issue of inefficient homes. I’d like to encourage any householders in Cornwall who are struggling to keep warm and pay their energy should bills not to suffer in silence and to contact us for free advice and access to services to help them keep warm and well.”