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Sunday, 23 January 2022

UK Community Foundations: The growing need to combat fuel poverty this winter

Rosemary Macdonald, CEO, UK Community Foundations writes

Fuel poverty is a major factor of excess winter deaths and suffering, impacting over 4 million UK households every year. This year the problem has been exacerbated by rising energy costs, fuel shortages, and the long-term effects of the pandemic. On average, 35,000 excess cold-related deaths are reported each winter in England and Wales.

Behind every statistic, there is a story of human suffering. Up and down our country people are facing extreme hardship. As we enter the coldest months of the year, the stark realities of 21st-century poverty in the UK will be felt by millions.

Imagine your boiler breaks down on the coldest day of the year and you don’t have the money to fix it. Or imagine having to choose between turning the heating on and having a warm meal. Think about what it would be like to be out in the biting without the appropriate clothing. These are situations that people are confronted with every winter.

The consequences of fuel poverty can be fatal. The key causes of these winter deaths stem from the effects of cold homes resulting in serious health issues, including respiratory illnesses, suppressed immune systems, poor blood circulation, and joint pain.  These issues can lead to strokes, heart attacks, hypothermia, dangerous falls from sore joints and increased symptoms of arthritis, influenza, and serious respiratory diseases.

To truly solve the problems caused by fuel poverty, systemic change at a national level is needed. Until that happens, people will need help from other sources. As a place-based funder, we know that local people will always step in and look out for one another.

Across the country community foundations run winter appeals that leverage funding from a range of local sources. The money raised by these appeals provides warm meals, emergency warmer packs, food parcels, grants to pay energy bills, regular welfare checks, and many more vital services to help people through the winter months.

These appeals change lives. Without them, many thousands of people would go without the support they need. When I was CEO at the Wiltshire Community Foundation for over a decade, I saw the impact of our Surviving Winter appeal first-hand. Something that will always stick with me was when a member of our team went to do an assessment of a woman living alone. She’d just had a shoulder replacement and the only heating source in her house was a wood burner, so she was trying to chop logs with one arm to keep the fire going. Situations like this will be happening everywhere.

This winter we need to make sure that we are doing all we can in our power to support people experiencing fuel poverty. Like many forms of poverty, it may not be visible – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It affects young people, elderly people and everyone in between.

If you would like to find out more about the winter appeals that community foundations are running, then please visit our website.

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