It is widely recognised that fuel poverty has severe effects on some of the most vulnerable people in society. However, while attention has focussed on older people in fuel poverty, families and children have been relatively neglected.
Until now, the scale of the problem for families has been poorly understood. Some evidence comes from a Barnardo’s survey in which over 90 per cent of their staff said they worked with families in fuel debt. To pay their energy bills, many families were cutting back on essentials such as heating and food.
It is clear that fuel poverty can have severe and life-long effects on children. Studies show that long-term exposure to a cold home can affect weight gain in babies and young children, increase hospital admission rates for children and increase the severity and frequency of asthmatic symptoms. Children in cold homes are more than twice as likely to suffer from breathing problems, and those in damp and mouldy homes are up to three times more likely to suffer from coughing, wheezing and respiratory illness, compared to those with warm, dry homes.
What’s more, struggling with high energy bills can impact adversely on the mental health of family members. Fuel poverty may even affect children’s education, if health problems keep them off school, or a cold home means there is no warm, separate room to do their homework.
It is vital that we understand the problem of fuel poverty for parents and children, and that future policies provide the support that these vulnerable families urgently need. This fact-file, prepared with the support of the Energy Bill Revolution, Barnado’s and Save the Children, provides a snapshot of families and (dependent) children in fuel poverty at the start of this year. It provides high-level estimates for the UK, England and the Devolved Nations. It then goes on to explore the nature and composition of fuel poverty amongst families and children, specifically in England. The fact-file and other resources can be downloaded below.
- Fact-file: Families and fuel poverty
- Energy Bill Revolution video on the subject: ‘Growing up cold: the impacts of cold homes on children’ (below)
- Selected coverage from February 27 and 28:
- The Guardian: Fury at Centrica’s £2.7bn dash for cash
- Channel 4 News: Number of children in fuel poverty rises to 1.6 million
- Daily Express: Millions of children facing fuel poverty
- Evening Standard: 1.6 million children living in fuel poverty
- Huffington Post: British Gas profits rise to £606m as more children condemned to fuel poverty
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