Consumers are being warned by energy broker Catalyst Commercial Services that heating prices are set to rise by 10 per cent in early 2008 - which could push the average household energy bill above the £1,000-a year-mark.
According to the National Energy Action (NEA) charity, for every 1 per cent rise in energy prices, a further 40,000 households are forced into fuel poverty – defined as the need to spend more than 10 per cent of household income on electricity and gas. If the NEA figures are right, up to 400,000 more households could become "fuel poor" in the new year.
"In the last year, wholesale gas prices have fallen by 50 per cent, and while the industry enjoyed the respite, it was in no hurry to share the benefits with consumers," Mr Asher of the consumer group Energywatch explains. "Suppliers waited until spring this year to pass on miserly reductions to their customers..."
"While price increases are passed on rapidly, there is evidence that any price reductions take much longer to filter through to households," says NEA chief executive Jenny Saunders
Office for National Statistics show 23,900 people died last winter as a result of the cold weather, of whom 22,300 were older people as we reported here.
"Many pensioners feel they need to cut back on their heating to reduce their bill, yet this could be putting their health at risk," says Gordon Lishman, director-general of the Age Concern charity. "With fuel costs 60 per cent higher than four years ago, it is no wonder that many pensioners worry about paying expensive bills. But they shouldn't have to worry about health versus wealth."
NEA research shows how, in England, the number of dependent children in fuel poor homes has risen from 220,000 in 2003 to 750,000 last year. This increase, coupled with news of rising fuel costs later this year, will increase the suffering for poor children across the UK.
Living in cold, damp homes can have a significant impact on children and their families:
It can increase the risk of asthma, a rapidly growing problem among children in particular, with approximately 1.1 million children in the UK, currently receiving treatment for the condition. Respiratory illnesses are almost three times more widespread than any other long-term childhood disease in the UK.
It can affect children’s health, increasing the risk of common ailments like colds and flu, and respiratory infections such as bronchitis, as well as making them more vulnerable to allergies.
It can affect children’s educational attainment, with children finding it difficult to complete homework in homes where only one room may be adequately heated and more liable to miss school due to cold-related illnesses.
It can increase feelings of social exclusion, with children often too embarrassed to invite friends back to a cold home.
Saunders, NEA Chief Executive, said: “For millions of families and individuals, winter brings poor health, isolation, debt and worry..."
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