Over 3.5 million people are in fuel poverty in Britain, having to spend at least 10% of their household income on powering and heating their homes. The unjustifiable high cost of energy means people on low incomes and benefits are hit hard, and have to choose between spending their meagre resources on fuel or food.
The use of food banks has nearly doubled over the summer school holiday as parents try to feed children who would normally receive free school meals.
With 13 million people living below the poverty line, and rising food prices, the trust’s 18 food banks around the country have seen a doubling of referrals from frontline workers, such as GPs and social workers.
The trust provides three days’ worth of emergency food to those in need. During 2011/2012 they gave out supplies to 128,697, and during 2012/2013 this increased to 346,992. Some of the factors contributing to the increase are the rising cost of living, static incomes, changes to benefits, and underemployment and unemployment, and expects those using its food banks to increase during 2013/2014.
Lindsay Judge, senior policy adviser for Child Poverty Action Group, said: “It’s a national scandal that more families are being referred to food banks in the summer holidays – a time when children should be having fun and parents should be enjoying life. It shows that something has gone badly wrong with the safety net in this country as welfare reform has taken away the protection a social security system is supposed to provide.
For many families at the low end of the income scale or on benefits, they have to make a choice between powering and heating their homes, or feeding themselves.
Fuel poverty is considered to occur when a household has to spend more than 10% of its gross income on fuel, which includes maintaining a temperature of 21 degrees Celsius in the main living room, and 18 degrees Celsius in other rooms (World Health Organisation). The 10% figure was adopted from a book by Dr Brenda Boardman published in 1988 called ‘Fuel Poverty’.
There have been criticisms from charities such as National Energy Action who say that the system of measuring fuel poverty is flawed because it is not based on net disposable income, and does not take into account the amount spent on fuel.
The unregulated profiteering of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies has been allowed to go unchecked by government for the past ten years or so, has resulted in extremely expensive electricity and gas supplies for consumers.
The government has done nothing to stem the impact of high energy prices on those who can least afford them, who are inevitably the poor and vulnerable in society.
What the government has done is change the way fuel poverty is measured.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has instantly wiped 1 million people from the total number of people in fuel poverty. Under the previous criteria (which were considered inaccurate) the DECC estimated that 3.5 million people were in fuel poverty. Under the new criteria, the figure is 2.5 million. Charity organisations estimate those in fuel poverty to be nearer 6 million when realistic criteria are applied.
The new criteria for fuel poverty from DECC classes fuel poverty as a home where “the total income is below the poverty line, and energy costs are higher than typical” – effectively eliminating the extortionate cost of fuel from the equation altogether by using ‘average’ measures.
So while the government cook-the-books to make themselves feel better about themselves, the reality is that there are a lot of people in the UK who face real hardship every day.
James Granger, of Fuel Poverty Action, told the Telegraph “For the millions of UK households driven into an impossible choice between heating and eating by spiralling gas prices and Government cuts, news that the Government’s response is to redefine the problem will not be taken kindly. Any reduction in the number of households classed as ‘fuel poor’ under the Government’s new definition will only mask an escalating cold homes crisis.”
Despite numerous reports based on real data, and the constant plight of millions trying to cope with providing the basics of living in what is left of society, the government has chosen to ignore profiteering by the energy companies.
Apart from a very, very weak announcement by Cameron that the ‘Big Six’ energy companies will be ‘forced’ to offer customers their lowest energy tariff, there has been very little action. He made the announcement in October 2012, although it seems that others in the corridors of power were unaware of such plans.
Despite Cameron’s ‘vow’ to stick by his plans for energy companies, it seems that his initial enthusiasm has diminished as his original ‘vow’ becomes watered down and there is no sign of any legislation being passed to force energy companies to do anything at all. Even if his plans were introduced, they do nothing whatsoever to prevent energy companies profiteering or covertly fixing energy prices. We have yet to see Ofgem get any real powers to regulate the power industry, which probably wouldn’t make much difference anyway when Ofgem is a government quango filled with energy company sympathisers.
Cameron is happy to push the issue of people being driven into poverty and hunger, and the 8,000 deaths per year because people (mostly elderly) are unable to heat their homes, under the carpet. It doesn’t matter to him. What does matter to him is that he and his cronies continue to profit from the misery of the masses and that they see an increase in their share portfolios.