Sophie Adam considers the one in five young people who live in fuel poverty.
Struggling to pay energy bills and keep warm at home is traditionally seen as a problem that only affects old people but this is not the case. The numbers of families with children living in inadequately heated homes is rising. Young parents and households headed by young people are now disproportionately affected by living in a cold home.
Approximately 40 per cent of households living in fuel poverty are couples or lone parents with dependent children. In total, 3.8 million children in England live in families that are struggling to pay their energy bills.
When we spoke to young parents about what it’s like to be unable to heat your home properly, one of them put into words perfectly how it undermines her family’s quality of life:
“No-one can understand fuel poverty unless they have lived in it. Fuel poverty is when you wake up to find you have no gas, no money and two days ‘til payday. You have to feed cold food to your children and wrap them up in coats, gloves and scarves indoors or trail them round the shops all day to keep warm.”
The consequences are far-reaching and can mean parents cutting back on essentials to keep their homes warm or being forced into debt when they cannot afford to pay their energy bills.
For a child, growing up in a home that is cold and damp can have a long lasting effect on their health, learning and enjoyment of life.
‘We are worried that our children’s health might be suffering as a result of living in cold and damp homes’
Young parent in Lambeth
The estimated cost to the NHS of treating conditions and illness in people of all ages caused or made worse by cold homes is around £1.36 billion per year.
Funding from Economy Energy’s customers provided NCB with the opportunity to carry out a fuel poverty project to gain insight and understanding of why the problem occurs and its impact on young people.
Working with young parents, we wanted young parents, children and young people to play a part in telling the social and economic story of fuel poverty and the impact on young lives. They told us that fuel poverty is not just about income but is also about having an awareness of what they can do themselves to help solve the problem.
We found families with children, and young parents in particular, face multiple challenges when it comes to keeping their homes warm and healthy. These include:
- Struggling with low or falling incomes even when they are in employment
- The high cost of energy
- A greater likelihood of living in private-rented accommodation with higher rents and lower energy efficiency
- The poor condition of housing stock, particularly in the private-rented sector
- Less access to social housing.
- A greater likelihood of pre-payment meters with higher energy charges
- A lack of knowledge and understanding of how to reduce their energy consumption and bills.
Families want to do their bit cut their fuel costs and keep their homes warmer – but facing challenges such as these means they can’t do it alone.
The government’s 2015 Fuel Poverty Strategy states that tackling fuel poverty is a government priority. However, there is widespread concern that the government target will not be met as current resources stand at less than half of what is needed to achieve the fuel poverty target.
It is vitally important that government, energy companies, voluntary organisations and local communities look at how they can support and help young parents to improve their living situations in relation to fuel poverty and cold homes.
Unless we do more to support all those who struggle to heat their homes properly, too many people will continue to have their health and happiness undermined by fuel poverty.
Download ‘Fuel poverty: what it means for young parents and their families’ here.
It is published to mark Fuel Poverty Awareness Day 2016 - #fuelpovertyawarenessday.