Niall Cooper: To heat, or eat?
Advent may be a time of hope and expectation, but it is also, for many, a time of dread. As the thermometer starts to plummet, increasing numbers of people are faced with the unenviable “choice”: To heat, or eat? For some, this is quite literally a matter of life and death. In the freezing weather of 2012, 31,000 people in the UK died unnecessarily – 10,000 due to cold homes.
Living in a cold home affects children’s educational attainment, emotional wellbeing and resilience. In adults, it is associated with elevated levels of heart attacks and strokes; it exacerbates colds and flu, rheumatism and arthritis, and severely undercuts mental health. Social isolation is increased (you can’t invite friends back to a home like a fridge) and elderly people are particularly vulnerable. It’s not a small problem either – almost four million households in the UK are officially classed as being in fuel poverty. This can only get worse as gas and electricity prices continue to rise.
The increasing cost of energy in the UK has regularly hit the headlines over recent years. The average fuel bill is at a record high and prices have increased by over £800 a year over the last 10 years. Combined with the economic downturn, cuts to benefits and lower wages, rising prices have contributed to a significant increase in fuel poverty. Fuel poverty affects over seven million people across the UK, and more people are struggling to pay their fuel bills each year. People are unable to heat their homes to an adequate standard – they have to make the choice whether to heat their homes or put food on the table, and, in some cases, they can’t afford to pay for the energy it would take to cook their food…
Niall Cooper is director of Church Action on Poverty, which, in conjunction with the Iona Community, Faith in the Community Scotland and others, jointly published a report titled “Food, Fuel and Finance: Tackling the poverty premium” on 8 December www.church-poverty.org.uk/foodfuelfinance
This is an extract from the December 2014/January 2015 edition of Reform.