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Real Voices: A first-hand account of living in fuel poverty

Anne is currently being affected by the fuel poverty crisis. In this revealing piece, she shares her experiences of being forced into poverty by rising costs.

My husband and I have certainly never been rich, but before this year I’d say we were reasonably comfortable, and could afford the occasional meal out and other little treats like that. We only started to be affected by fuel poverty in 2022.

It began when I read an article in the paper that fuel bills all over the country were going up, and so I just casually thought I’d check our account to see if we were going to be affected. That’s when I saw that our fuel bill was going up from £82 to £133 a month. Since then it’s gone up again to £146, and we know it’s set to rise again in October. Our budget just could not stretch to an extra £50 a month on bills, and I know that we’re not the only household in this position.

I am disabled, and I depend on disability benefit. My husband works in education, so has not had a pay rise in five years. Over the last couple of years as the cost of living has been rising, our income has been dropping steadily and we have had to tighten our belts more and more, trimming our budget until only really necessary expenses like food and heat are left. But now that fuel is so extortionate there is no part of our budget that can be cut back, and we (like so many other households) are being forced to choose between eating and heating. 

My disability means that I can’t metabolise properly, and therefore I am severely underweight. Sitting in a cold house with the heating off is clearly very dangerous and can land me in hospital. I have an electric hoist which lifts me between wheelchairs, and this needs to be on charge constantly, which obviously uses up electricity. I also have a powered wheelchair which has to be on charge at all times, and I have an electric bed which allows me to change position so I don’t get pressure sores, which must stay plugged in as well. Even if I take the risk and sit in a cold house, I still need to use energy to stay alive. 

At this point, the worry of not being able to afford our rising bill has led me to suffer from extreme anxiety. It feels like there’s a little man running around in my head screaming “What are we going to do?!” at all hours of the day, and there’s never any let up from the pressure.

I don’t think people are taking this issue seriously enough at all. I saw an article in The Guardian that referred to “energy stress”. That is perhaps an appropriate phrase for where we were two years ago, but these days “energy blind panic” is closer to the truth. I feel that the media and the government are trying to smooth this issue over, and act like it’s a little bit worrying but not too much of a concern. But that’s wrong. People are going to die as a result of this crisis. We’re sleepwalking into a nightmare.

The energy companies tell us that they’re “honoring fixed tariffs” and we can still just pay £82 a month, but if we choose to do that, we will be over £300 in debt to them by the end of the month. It seems our choice is either to go into a debt that is insurmountable, or find the money for a direct debit and go hungry. 

There has been help available to us during this time of crisis. Scope (the disability charity) has been fantastic. They have set up a helpline because they know that disabled people are being hit disproportionately by the fuel poverty crisis. I personally know lots of disabled people who are in a similar situation to me, unable to afford fuel bills that they desperately need to survive. My elderly mother lives rurally, and relies on a pension. Her oil bill has doubled per quarter, which is terrifying. Most people I’ve spoken to about this have seen their fuel bill go up by at least £50-80, so it really is affecting a majority of the population. 

I find it interesting that a lot of the energy companies complain about the global cost of energy causing them problems, and yet they have reported record profits this last year and paid their shareholders dividends. So I struggle to understand how so many people are still being hit by this crisis. I feel that the government is definitely not doing enough to help people through this. They have the means to do something about this and help those in crisis, but I believe they choose not to because they themselves are not affected. 

My husband works full-time, and is also my primary carer. I am physically unable to work. We have cut as many costs as we can, the belt has been tightened as far as it can possibly go. We’ve done our bit and now we need politicians to take the energy bills crisis seriously and act.