The scandal of fuel poverty
Right here, today, in 21st century Britain, many thousands of people die prematurely each year simply because they can’t afford to keep their homes warm.
According to recent data, over 5 million British households currently suffer ‘fuel poverty’ – and with steeply rising energy prices, this number is likely to increase.
Fuel poverty means being forced to spend more than 10 per cent of the household income simply in order to keep warm – to heat the home adequately for health and comfort, and to provide basic hot water and lighting. This is almost three times the percentage of income spent by the majority of the population.
Many vulnerable people are at risk, especially pensioners and disabled people. Of necessity these groups spend most of their time at home because they don’t work, or it’s difficult for them to get out. Hundreds of thousands of low-income families and children are also affected. For children, fuel poverty can contribute to educational under-achievement as well as ill health. Rises in energy prices affect everyone, but for those on low incomes the impact can be catastrophic. Each winter, fuel poverty is responsible for anything between 20,000 and 50,000 premature deaths, making it the most common preventable cause of death after smoking.
Only around 200 vulnerable people may actually die of hypothermia, but the majority of winter deaths are due to health conditions that are aggravated by a cold, damp environment – such as respiratory infections, asthma, heart disease and stroke. Yet countries with more severe winters than Britain manage to have less seasonal variation of mortality.
To find out more, take a look at the video, produced by the National Consumers Council. We think it presents the human face of fuel poverty accurately and powerfully.
The pressures of fuel poverty can be most acute for those who have no choice but to pay for their energy through a pre-payment meter. And as explained in detail elsewhere on this website, consumers using a pre-payment meter nearly always have to pay a higher unit rate for their energy, sometimes up to three times more, than those paying by direct debit or online
EquiGas and EquiPower tariff were set up specifically to ensure a
fair, low rate for those on low incomes who need it most.
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