Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
Households stuck on the brink of the fuel poverty crisis
There are times when I just open up my energy bill ... and cry
Vulnerable families and households across Lanarkshire are being forced to choose between eating and heating, as a shocking new report reveals that they are on the brink of a fuel poverty crisis.
Just weeks after world leaders gathered in Glasgow to discuss climate change and energy efficiency at COP26, the report from social enterprise The Wise Group reveals that more than a quarter of its customers have admitted to rationing and self-disconnecting their energy supply because they can’t afford to pay their bill.
The Wise Group’s new Lights Off to Lights On report, which shows a 185 per cent spike in energy efficiency enquiries during the Covid-19 pandemic, included responses from its customers in the North and South Lanarkshire areas.
The report reveals that energyrationing households in the region have become among the‘involuntarily greenest’in the UK by cutting back or shutting off energy and fuel supplies.
The highest number of respondents (65.9 per cent) to the fuel poverty survey – which also polled opinions in Greater Glasgow and Tyne and Wear – were from South Lanarkshire, where 218 Wise Group customers made their views known.
There, 15.1 per cent of respondents reported rationing and disconnecting from energy for fear that they wouldn’t be able to pay their bill.
Every one of the 23 Wise Group customers in North Lanarkshire who responded to the survey said that they too ration and disconnect, with more than a third of them confirming they limit or turn off heating on a daily basis because they can’t afford the soaring cost.
Despite a 139 per cent increase in people seeking debt relief support, there’s been an increase of only 41 per cent in debt relief given, which has resulted in more people disconnecting from the grid all year round.
With recent figures suggesting 24.6 per cent of Scots households (613,000) live in fuel poverty, The Wise Group’s CEO Sean Duffy described the situation as“a crisis.”
“Almost a quarter of Scots live in fuel poverty,”he said.“as a result, vulnerable people are choosing to self-disconnect their energy supply to save money, and as the temperatures drop, the decision to choose between eating and heating becomes increasingly stark.
“We have seen increasing numbers choosing to disconnect their energy supply, or at risk of self-disconnection for a variety of reasons.
“These households are hidden from the traditional‘in debt’description of the‘vulnerable customer’because they have chosen to disconnect.
“At The Wise Group, we are working hard to support and mentor as many customers in this position as possible.”
The Lights Off to Lights On report includes gathered personal stories of families struggling to heat their homes and feed their children.
One South Lanarkshire resident who has a disability said:“i thought I was one of the forgotten people in the town.
“Help is always there, but [only] for some.”
And another Lanarkshire woman admitted:“there are times when I just open up my energy bill ... and cry.”
One respondent described living with just 89p of electricity to last her to the end of the week, with only the fridge and a lamp for reading using power in her home.
A 75-year-old woman living with cancer spent two years without heating as she struggled to get a replacement meter, moving around her home with a duvet and hot water bottle, until she connected with The Wise Group.
As part of the survey, individuals were also asked to describe in one word how they feel when rationing or disconnecting their energy.
Responses included:“cold, scared, terrible, unhappy, embarrassed, worried, upset, damp, helpless, sore and horrified.”
The report also highlights that fuel poverty has caused some food banks to rethink their strategy because some individuals and families in need are unable to cook food due to lack of energy.
This has resulted in the distribution of‘ambient’food parcels containing foods with a long shelf life that do not require heating up.
A key element of The Wise Group’s work, explained Sean Duffy, is to ensure that people are not left behind.
Mentors employed by the social enterprise help this increasing number of affected customers to boost their confidence in managing energy needs, as well as offering advice on heating homes affordably and access to funding such as the Warm Home Discount.
Mr Duffy continued: “Behind these shocking figures are real stories of people wrapped in a duvet all day to keep warm, scared of sending their kids to school smelling of damp, unable to boil the kettle or cook their dinner, terrified of the next energy bill.
“Often families in fuel poverty are paying the price of energy inefficiency in their home and higher prices for metered energy use.”
And he added:“it’s time to address these issues by placing mentoring at the heart of bridging the gap between the most vulnerable in society and fuel poverty.”