UK: protecting children from fuel poverty
I had a phone call from Scottish and Southern Electrics recently to let me know they have decided to expand the eligibility criteria of the Warm Home Discount to include low-income families with children on free school meals.
The Warm Home Discount is a rebate that people in fuel poverty can apply for from their energy companies to help with their bills.
This isn’t paid automatically to low-income families, which is what we would like, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction for children in fuel poverty.
No Child Left in the Cold
When we launched our No Child Left in the Cold campaign in January, we wanted the government and energy companies to recognise how a cold home has such a detrimental impact on the lives of children and to make them a priority in the same way vulnerable older people are in the UK.
A cold home impacts the health, well-being and educational attainment of children in poverty, starting with babies struggling to gain weight, school days missed due to illness, right the way through to higher rates of depression in teenagers.
Despite this evidence, children in fuel poverty were not given the proper consideration and often excluded from initiatives set up to help vulnerable people in fuel poverty.
Thankfully, because of campaigns like ours and the support of the general public, we’ve been able to push for children in fuel poverty and the tide is starting to turn in their favour.
But to be really serious about helping children and breaking this cycle of ill health, depression and failing educational attainment, a range of measures are needed.
Energy efficiency is one of the best ways to help people in fuel poverty but low-income families also need help with the cost of bills.
The government should seriously consider data sharing with energy companies so families eligible for cold weather payments receive an automatic Warm Home Discount.
This will help young children in the poorest households and make it easier to find the homes that will really benefit from energy efficiency measures at the same time.
This year nearly £30 million was left unclaimed from the government’s Warm Front scheme but with data sharing it would have been easier for energy companies to find and help children in fuel poverty.
A holistic approach
For too long we’ve heard how parents have to choose between heating and eating, so we’re working with our programme Eat, Sleep, Learn, Play to find a holistic approach to reducing fuel poverty in their homes.
We want to find a way to bring together all the practical help available from the government and energy companies in a way that is easy to access.
The evidence collected from our work will show it’s possible to use existing schemes to protect children from fuel poverty but also why children should be a priority when it comes to making decisions on fuel poverty targets and measures in the future.