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Social Justice

Energy costs leave millions living in ‘Dickensian conditions’ over Christmas

Nearly one in five adults are spending Christmas and the new year period 2022 in a cold, damp home

Millions of people are spending the festive period in “Dickensian conditions” because of the energy bills crisis, a new study has found.

New figures from YouGov for the Warm This Winter campaign found almost a third of people with disabilities are spending December in cold, damp houses because they can’t afford to heat their homes. 

A quarter of people with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma or multiple sclerosis, which are made worse by cold and damp, were unable to heat their homes to a safe standard. In total, nine million people were found to be living in such conditions – nearly one in five adults.

Jonathan Bean, from Buckinghamshire, described his daily battle to keep his home free of mould and damp for his asthmatic son.

“We have dehumidifiers and electric heaters running as much as we can afford to, but that still doesn’t keep the home any warmer than 12 degrees”, he told the End Fuel Poverty Coalition. 

“We even had ice forming inside our double glazed windows during the recent cold weather. Our electricity bills keep going up and while others who are ‘off the gas grid’ have had extra government support, we haven’t.”

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The government has spent £18million on a campaign advising people on how to save energy, researchers found over half of people had already put in place energy reduction measures before the start of this winter’s cold weather.

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Stuart Bretherton, Energy For All campaign coordinator at Fuel Poverty Action, warned rising poverty due to the cost of living crisis could result in an “unprecedented number of deaths from cold and damp this winter”.

“We used to read Dickens at Christmas with a sense of nostalgia, but now Dickensian conditions are back for those who can’t afford to heat their homes this winter,” said Jacky Peacock from Advice for Renters, a charity working with those in fuel poverty in north London.

Responding to the findings, anti-fossil fuels campaigner at Global Witness Alice Harrison reiterated calls for a Windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies “that have made billions on the back of the skyrocketing cost of energy and the impoverishment of millions of UK citizens”.

The government has brought in a range of schemes to help some people who are struggling to pay their energy bills, including the cost of living payment and energy bill rebate. 

However, even with this support, some people are still struggling to afford to heat their homes at all, while others such as people in the Gypsy and Traveller communities do not qualify for assistance.  

The UK Health Security Agency advises that temperatures should be kept at 18C in the most used rooms. For those unable to heat their homes to this, it’s a choice between a cold, damp home, or visiting a warm bank if one is available.

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