Britain’s soaring energy costs strain crisis responders


Across Britain this winter, more people are falling into debt and sitting in cold or damp homes as a result of rising energy bills, which have helped push the country’s inflation rate above 10 percent.

This sharp increase in what is called “fuel poverty”, when 10 percent of household income is spent on energy bills, is stretching the resources of charities that provide free advice, emergency funds or resources to get access to heat and improve home energy efficiency.

With limited staff and inflation-depleted resources, these groups have been hunting for more creative ways to reach vulnerable households.

Those efforts include having doctors in Gloucestershire prescribe heat to patients who are at risk of being hospitalized because of the cold. Some charities are handing out blankets, thermos flasks and thick socks.

“The numbers of people that are experiencing hardship now are kind of unimaginable compared to where they were even a year or so back,” said Peter Sumby, the director of communities at the nonprofit National Energy Action.

The group estimates that 6.7 million households are in fuel poverty. In a survey published this month, nearly one-quarter of adults said they were struggling to keep their living rooms warm recently, while one-third said cutting back on their heating was harming their health or well-being.

Sumby said his nonprofit was resorting to “cobbled-together solutions to help people get through the winter”, including packs with blankets, packets of hot chocolate powder and draft-proofing items. “That is clearly a crisis response,” he said.

In the past six months, calls to the National Energy Action’s advice line have tripled from the previous six months. The line has now been shut down until the new year because of the overwhelming number of calls and a backlog of referrals.

Since the beginning of September, Severn Wye, the nonprofit that runs Warm and Well and other services in the region, has helped more than 2,600 households, 1,000 more than the same time last year.

Meanwhile, the phones never stop ringing. There have been nearly 9,000 phone calls since April.

The British government plans to spend £25 billion pounds to cap energy rates this winter, but the typical household will still face gas and electric bills of £2,500 a year on average, double what they were a year ago. In April, the annual cap will rise to £3,000.

Across Europe, governments are spending heavily to shield their populations from rising energy costs and have spent months encouraging households to commit to energy-saving measures such as turning thermostats down a degree or taking shorter showers.

Britain last Saturday rolled out a nationwide energy-saving advice campaign, which includes urging people to unplug appliances when they are not in use and reduce the settings on boilers.

By the time this campaign began, fuel poverty charities were already inundated with cries for help.



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