Fuel Poverty at Christmas: The Added Pressure of Covid-19

By Suzanne Barningham, Energyworks Manager

If winter didn’t pose its own problems for Greater Manchester’s rising population living in fuel poverty, a global pandemic is going to make it significantly harder. Those who were already struggling with their energy costs may find that they are plunged deeper into crisis, while others who may have never been worried about their finances could find themselves in a very different situation to where they were 12 months ago [NEA: Action For Warm Homes].

Green Doctor in person's home

Our Green Doctor’s can offer you advice and guidance on cutting your energy bills this winter

Fuel Poverty in Greater Manchester

In four of the five areas with the highest estimated fuel poverty rates – Newham, Liverpool, Manchester and Blackpool – 15 per cent of households are estimated to be “fuel poor” [NewStatesman]

‘It’s going through the roof’, and on many occasions when we meet people it’s nothing to do with their energy, that’s a secondary issue to things like domestic violence, addiction or mental health. One lady I’m dealing with owns 20 cats, but we’re struggling to provide heat to her property as it will amplify the smell. On top of this, her electric has cut out and she doesn’t have a functioning oven. We can provide all of this for her, but first we need to address her living situation. She’s 79, frail and has bad respiratory problems.

In Greater Manchester, 157,000 households are experiencing fuel poverty while around a quarter of a million people are claiming help towards housing costs [About Manchester]

Covid-19’s Impact on Fuel Poverty

Data from part of Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s ‘GM Poverty Monitor 2020’ shows strong indications that existing high-levels of poverty in the region are likely to worsen throughout the pandemic. Studies reflect that health conditions impacted by cold temperatures in the home put people at greater risk of catching the virus. Alternatively, warming single rooms encourages households to gather in one place, further increasing the likelihood of transmission.

Energyworks home visit

The Greater Manchester Energyworks team has helped people save over £47,000 by switching suppliers in 2019/20

Who can be affected by fuel poverty?

Often we hear the phrase, ‘I’m not in poverty, I can put shoes on my kids feet’. Many people assume they’re not in fuel poverty when they actually are. People can have a lot of debt; they could be earning £30-40,000 per year but with priority debts to pay out they can’t afford to put the heating on. Energywork’s and Groundwork’s core values reflect no one should be excluded from advice, guidance and support on energy and ultimately, living comfortably.

Fuel poverty is measured differently now than what it used to be, a huge part of our work is to champion those people who used to be eligible for services and no longer are, to show that they are desperate and have nothing. Households can have a sever cut in income which induces anxiety and stress, or perhaps an individual has just left hospital, care or prison and has been placed in accommodation with no knowledge of how to manage things like energy usage and bills. In 2018/19 there was an estimated 23,200 excess winter deaths in England and Wales. Impacts of living in a cold home increase risk of heart attacks, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and effects mental health.

Energy Advice

Suzanne’s top tip: Don’t let your home fall below 14 degrees to reduce the risk of causing illnesses like pneumonia.

Christmas: An added pressure

Traditionally a time of joy, for those who live in social isolation with underlying issues it’s quite the opposite. This year is going to be extremely difficult due to lockdown, many people have developed extreme cases of social anxiety and are actually scared to leave the house and interact with people. This encourages them to stay at home, using excessive electricity and heating. This time of year people are expected to use 30% more energy on average than they would normally – community centres and volunteer groups, often their only social events are no longer an option.

Examples of extreme measures of saving money on energy, without our advice, include going to bed when it starts to get dark, which at this time of year is 5 o clock – otherwise they can be sat on their own in the dark. This doesn’t just include the elderly; we’re now seeing an influx of young adults and even school children working from home without access to what we class as every day norms, and we still expect the same results from them as if they were in the office or school.

‘Keeping up with the Jones’ is a reoccurring theme at Christmas too. Around 200,000 children in Greater Manchester live in households with an income below the poverty line, yet pressures to buy the latest toys and tech are significant.

Groundwork’s Roots to Well-being programme put a smile on children’s faces last Christmas, donating toys to a local appeal.

Raising Awareness

People are going to lose their lives if we don’t raise awareness and continue our amazing work everyday. So far in 2019/20 our team has managed to complete 1,900 home visits, saving people over £230,000 through energy advice alone. There are plenty of ways in which we can help, but essentially we need people to realise fuel poverty can affect anyone, anywhere at any time.

Fuel Poverty Awareness Day this year falls on Friday 27th November, and you can follow all of the updates throughout the day using the hashtags #FuelPovertyAwarenessDay and #WarmSafeHomes.

By Suzanne Barningham, Energyworks Manager 

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