Young parents are calling for better advice to tackle fuel poverty as almost four million children in England live in families that are struggling to pay their energy bills(i), according to evidence gathered in a new report.
The research is brought together in a new analysis of fuel poverty through the eyes of young parents and their families, published by the National Children's Bureau to mark Fuel Poverty Awareness Day (26th Feb).
Contrary to popular belief, it's not just older people who struggle to pay their energy bills and keep warm - 4 in 10 of those living in cold homes are couples or single parents with dependent children(ii).
The report, funded by UK energy supplier Economy Energy, draws on research that clearly links living in a cold home with an increased risk of children suffering a range of health problems - from asthma and bronchitis to poor mental health - as well as being a factor in their educational attainment and general wellbeing.
It is estimated that the cost to the NHS for treating conditions caused or made worse by living in a cold home is £1.4 billon per year (iii).
Drawing on the views of young parents in Coventry and Lambeth, staff working in community support organisations and young people themselves, the report underlines the grim facts of life for the two million or more households living in fuel poverty today (iv).
'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 around the shops all day to keep them warm',one young parent in Lambeth told the project.
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children's Bureau said:
'It is not just older people who suffer as a result of living in cold homes, many young parents too are stuck in a vicious cycle of low income, high energy tariffs on prepayment meters and housing that is damp and difficult to heat properly. As a result, many will have fallen into debt and seen their children suffer illness brought on as a result of fuel poverty.
'The parents we spoke to want to do their bit but need better advice on how to cut their energy use and make their homes warmer and healthier. Families shouldn't be left to solve these problems alone; urgent action is needed by the government, energy companies and housing providers to solve the fuel poverty crisis that millions of households find themselves in.'
Angela Beardsmore, Chief Operating Officer at Economy Energy, said:
'We were set up to level the playing field for customers on prepayment meters and help address what were often higher-priced tariffs charged by some other energy suppliers.
'As a conscientious energy supplier, we wanted to help raise awareness of the problems linked to fuel poverty and support the development of solutions that could help families tackle the problem of cold homes.
'The report highlights a need for clear, practical information to help young parents, and others affected by this important issue, make small changes that could lead to a positive difference in their life; something we hope is introduced in the future.'
The report calls for government, energy companies, voluntary organisations and communities to look at how they can support and help young parents to improve their living situations in relation to fuel poverty and living in cold homes. At the same time young parents are clear that they want to take action themselves, provided they have help and information that is easy to use and practical which they can access through different sources.