There are currently over 4 million young people in England living in fuel poverty. These children are more likely to attend hospital, suffer mental health issues and achieve low levels of educational attainment than children who live in adequately heated homes. We wanted to give these young people a voice.
Economy Energy approached us to carry out a project to gain insight into fuel poverty and the impact it can have. We wanted to put young people’s lived experience at the heart of the project so, working with our participation team, we collected their testimony to give them a voice on the issue of fuel poverty. Drawing on evidence collected by our in-house Research team and informed by the young people we worked with, we developed recommendations that could help alleviate the impact of fuel poverty on children’s lives, support young parents to manage their energy bills and provide an escape from the cycle of poverty.
How does fuel poverty affect young people?
Fuel poverty impacts on the lives of some of the most disadvantaged children and young people. It can force parents to cut back on essentials to keep their homes warm and push families and young people into debt. For a child, it can mean growing up in a home that is cold and damp, which will have a long-lasting effect on their health, learning and enjoyment of life.
Struggling to pay energy bills and keep warm at home is traditionally seen as a problem that only affects the elderly, however this is not the case. A quarter of households headed by 16 to 24-year-olds live in fuel poverty and 3.8 million children in England live in families that are struggling to pay their energy bills.
“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."
Young parent in Lambeth
What did we find?
We found families with children, and young parents in particular, face multiple challenges when it comes to keeping their homes warm and healthy. Children who had experienced poverty were more likely to have problems with relationships, including an increased likelihood of being bullied and fighting with their friends, and having less communicative relationships with friends and family. These problems can have an effect on how well children perform at school and their likelihood of finding a way out of poverty as adults.
Other challenges include:
- struggling with low or falling incomes even when they are in employment
- high cost of energy
- greater likelihood of living in private-rented accommodation with higher rents and lower energy efficiency properties
- poor condition of housing stock, particularly in private-rented sector
- less access to social housing
- greater likelihood of pre-payment meters with higher charges
- lack of knowledge and understanding of how to reduce their energy consumption and bills.
Young parents feel that not enough is currently being done to support them and many are stuck in a vicious cycle of high rent, cold and damp homes, and ill health.
Our work on fuel poverty highlighted the inequalities faced by young people growing up in a cycle of poverty. We believe in fighting these inequalities and this project has informed our work as a leading member of the End Child Poverty coalition which holds Government to account over the standard of living enjoyed by poor children and families. Building on this project we have undertaken projects to further explore the relationship between poverty and life chances including our research report on how housing can affect health of young children.
For more information about the project, contact our in house Research Team firstname.lastname@example.org