Big Energy Saving Week
Energy efficiency could cut down bills, but further action is needed
The Energy Saving Trust predicts that a typical home’s energy bill could go up by £240 in 2022. Ofgem, who regulate what companies can charge for electricity and gas, increased the energy price cap on bills in October and is expected to do the same again in April of this year. With Centrica warning that there are at least two years of high prices ahead, the problem isn’t going away any time soon.
Around 4million UK homes were classed as fuel poor heading into winter 2021. By the end of spring, this number could jump to 6million – the highest it has been since records began over 25 years ago. In Norfolk, there are an estimated 49,737 fuel-poor households, a number that could reach almost 75,000 by May. Norfolk’s fuel poverty levels are above the national average, with Norwich and Kings Lynn being considered especially poor. At the end of last year, our charities reported an increase in demand for fuel vouchers, with some reporting a threefold increase in requests. The latest figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that a low-income family of four could see spending on gas and electricity rise from 9% to 14% of their earnings, further pinching household budgets for other essentials like rent and food. Single people on low income could see their fuel prices increase to a colossal 54% of their income. This means that people will be choosing heating over eating to avoid going into debt.
As ever, Norfolk’s voluntary and charity organisations will be on hand to provide support to the most vulnerable people. Fuel vouchers have been provided to groups to distribute as part of our Surviving Winter Campaign, which is still open to donations. Additionally, charities we have supported as part of our Nourishing Norfolk project such as the Food Pantry Feltwell and Shrublands Food Club can provide free or discounted food to families in need, freeing up finances for fuel bills. Additionally, groups like the Hygiene Bank Kings Lynn will be able to give away expensive sanitary products and cleaning provisions as well as soaps, shampoos and shower gels, all of which will help bust budgeting woes.
While economic currents can sweep people along, it is vital we remember that Norfolk VCSEs are always on hand to provide a lifeline for their communities.
The Currents of Poverty
Rising fuel costs are just one example of the ways our economy creates powerful currents that can pull people into further poverty. If many of these currents align, they can sweep people away or pull them deeper still. We can solve fuel poverty by loosening its grip on people. Strong infrastructure can provide the anchor to keep people steady in powerful currents. Benefits are one way to help release people from the restrictions our economy places on them. They are a tool that keep people afloat and allow them to be self-sufficient.
Another way is through voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises (VCSEs). If one current become too strong, the flow of other current can be stemmed through charitable assistance. For example, if a gas bill eats into the household budget, a community food hub could be used to get groceries for less (or for free), or a hygiene bank used to source toiletries. These services may just be needed once, or be used to stay afloat for longer if necessary. These lifelines are essential if other systems fail, or are unavailable or insufficient.
This year, as part of Big Energy Saving Week, the Energy Saving Trust has teamed up with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau to share and distribute information to help people struggling with fuel bills. The material includes information of everything from winter fuel payments and emergency grants to money-saving tips and advice.