New research by the national charity Turn2us has found that one in two low income households are struggling to afford their energy costs, despite being in work. Amongst the hardest hit are people with disabilities, with over two in three (67%) reporting their struggles, and families, with almost two-thirds of working parents (65%) unable to meet these costs.
Worryingly, of those households who are struggling with energy costs, nearly half (48%) have done so for more than a year. The knock-on effect is severe, with a third (33%) forced to skip meals and over a fifth (21%) experiencing stress and other mental health problems. Furthermore, nearly two-fifths (39%) are struggling with other essential bills, with Council Tax topping the list of payments they’re behind on (30%).
As the weather turns colder, the research also uncovers how low income workers will cope with these costs through the winter. Of those households worried about their energy costs, a huge 71% feel they will have to cut back on or not use their heating, whilst over two-fifths (44%) said they would resort to cutting back on food. Nearly two in five (37%) anticipate that their energy bills will cause further stress and worry in the coming months.
There are 2.3 million households living in fuel poverty in England alone, and it is estimated that nearly half of these are in work. As debate continues around proposed cuts to the tax credits system, there is growing concern that low income working households’ finances could be even harder hit from next year.
Turn2us’ research also suggests a lack of awareness of the help that could be available to low income working households, or potential reluctance to access it. Of those who are struggling to pay their energy costs, only 12% have told their energy supplier about their situation, and only 5% have turned to an advice organisation for help. Three-quarters have not checked their eligibility for welfare benefits in the last twelve months, whilst a huge 83% are unaware that some energy suppliers have charitable trusts set up to help certain customers.
This winter, Turn2us is running its No Cold Homes campaign specifically to help more people who are unable to afford to heat their homes. The charity is encouraging anyone in financial hardship to use its free online service to see if they are eligible for welfare benefits, charitable grants and other support – additional income which could help them manage their energy costs over the colder months.
Simon Hopkins, Chief Executive of Turn2us said: “Our research paints a startling picture, revealing the extent to which households are struggling to heat their homes, even though they’re in work. It is clear that more needs to be done to help raise awareness of the financial support and other help available to people on low incomes to help them manage their energy costs.
We know that this is an issue that affects a wide range of people, and alongside working households, many others will suffer this winter. We believe that no one should have to live in a cold home. Through our campaign, we urge anyone struggling to check what support could be available.”
The new findings from Turn2us were released on the same day that The Trussell Trust released its latest figures showing that numbers helped by foodbanks nationwide are still at record levels, and that winter is likely to see a further spike in need.
David McAuley, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust said: “This important research from Turn2us reinforces what we see on the ground day-in day-out at foodbanks. During winter we meet families who are all sleeping together in one room to share warmth, who cannot afford to heat the home and have no money for food. There are too many people struggling to afford fuel and food in the UK, and winter is the hardest time of year for many people in poverty. That’s why urgent action is needed and why we welcome the Turn2us No Cold Homes Campaign and the difference it could make to some of the UK’s poorest households.”
The No Cold Homes campaign runs from 18 November to 16 December 2015. As part of the campaign, Turn2us is hosting an online celebrity clothes auction (30 November – 9 December) to raise awareness of people’s struggles to heat their homes, and funds to help more people affected.
For more information, please visit www.turn2us.org.uk/NoColdHomes.