No family should face the choice between heating or eating
Families are having to choose between eating, heating and even their children’s school uniform as we head into what is feared to be the toughest winter in recent memory.
With rising fuel poverty on the horizon, Danny Dawes, who runs community hub Grandads Front Room in Bognor Regis, gave an example of the challenges some families are facing.
He said: “We had one lady in the shop, I’ll never forget her because she came in and wanted to talk to somebody.
“I took the time to talk to her and she ended up in floods of tears. She was just broken and, eventually we got down to the crux of it, and the reason she was in absolute floods of tears was because kids were going back to school.
“School uniform costs an arm and a leg and she said, ‘This month, I’ve had to choose between gas, electric, food and uniform.
“Why are we putting families in a position where mums and dads have to ask ‘are you hungry’, ‘do you really need some heating’ or ‘do you want to go to school and not get bullied because you’re not wearing the right uniform’?
“It’s a joke. To my mind, I always think they punish those who can’t shout loud enough to be heard. That’s what it seems like. Punish those who haven’t got a voice because you can’t hear them, so it doesn’t matter.”
Stories like this could become more common, as spiralling fuel costs could plunge more people into fuel poverty. In West Sussex, 26,185 households were in fuel poverty in 2019, making up seven per cent of households in the county. For Arun, the figure was 5,165 (seven per cent) and in Chichester, 4,035 (eight per cent). These figures are likely to increase as fuel prices rise, and our foodbanks may face yet more pressure as a result.
Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice said that rising energy prices will be creating a huge amount of worry and uncertainty at an already difficult time, as well as concern for what happens if an energy supplier goes bust.
Luca Badioli, chief executive officer for Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice, said: “We’ve seen a large increase in the number of people accessing our national website pages on energy issues as well as increased numbers of people seeking advice from our energy team.
“Alongside soaring energy costs, people are also facing the effects of the removal of the £20 per week uplift on Universal Credit, as well as the impact of the end of the furlough scheme. Default tariff customers are facing an average price rise of £139 per year from October, and for prepay customers it’s around £153, which is more than the Warm Home Discount (£140) offered to households with lower incomes.”
Charlie Young, projects manager, has some advice on what to do if you’re worried about your energy costs.
“It’s important not to switch suppliers impulsively as there are very limited options at the moment. If your supplier goes bust, you’ll still continue to have energy while your account is transferred. Take regular meter readings so you know how much energy you’ve consumed and can compare this with your bill.
“Our energy team is here to advise anyone in West Sussex who might have questions or concerns. We can help with issues around switching, complaints or difficulty paying your bills. We can also connect you to grants for home improvements or paying bills.”
If you’d like to speak to the energy team at Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice, call 01243 974063 Monday-Friday, 10am to 4pm.
Our pledge to you
Today, this newspaper is joining with its sister titles across JPIMedia to launch our campaign Keep Us Warm This Winter.
As part of this, we will make sure you, our readers, have all the information you need about the fuel crisis, keep you up to date with developments and ways to ensure you can cope with the winter ahead.
We will put pressure on the Government to ensure no vulnerable families find themselves without heating this winter and demand extra payments to those families to cover the excess heating charges.
We will work to help you find solutions to your individual concerns and put those concerns to our MPs and the Government.
And this newspaper will stand up for families in our communities as they face what could be one of the toughest winters ever.