An increasing number of hard-working families in St Helens are struggling to heat their homes, shocking new figures today reveal.
Despite it being mid-summer, the problems are being stored up every winter and more than 7,500 St Helens households have struggled to pay their fuel bills leaving many being forced to choice between paying for either meals or heating.
And while the number of homes officially classed as being in fuel poverty has fallen by more than 1,000, council leaders and a town MP say the problem is as prevalent as ever.
According to a report from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), 7,560 households in the borough were fuel poor in 2012, working out at 10.1 per cent of the total number of homes. In 2011, the number was 8,720, working out at 11.3 per cent.
St Helens Council officials launched a campaign last winter to encourage residents to seek help if they were struggling with their bills.
St Helens Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Housing, Planning and Community Safety, Coun Richard McCauley said: “Despite continued efforts to reduce the levels of fuel poverty in St Helens, the problem is more prevalent than ever.”
Fuel poor status applies to households that need to spend more than 10 per cent of its income to maintain an adequate standard of warmth, the DECC said.
An adequate standard of warmth is defined as 21 degrees for the main living room and 18 degrees for other occupied rooms, the report added.
St Helens South MP Shaun Woodward said: “These figures reveal the full scale of the cost-of-living crisis in Britain. Here in St Helens more and more people tell me they’re struggling to afford the gas and electric they need to heat their homes and cook a decent meal.
“It can’t be right that while one in ten people in St Helens are living in fuel poverty, David Cameron refuses to get tough with the big energy companies who are making record profits. What’s even worse is that because of the Government’s inaction, fuel poverty is projected to rise again this year to 2.33 million.
“While the coalition dithers, Labour would act to reduce energy bills and tackle fuel poverty. The next Labour Government will undertake the biggest overhaul of our energy market for 20 years. Our plans will break up the big energy companies, put an end to their secret deals and create a tough new regulator with the power to force companies to cut their prices when wholesale costs fall.”
A council spokesman said: “Living in a cold home can contribute directly to high levels of preventable illness such as respiratory infections, premature heart disease, asthma and strokes, as well as exacerbating mental health problems. The effects on people’s health and quality of life can be profound.”
Residents are encouraged to contact the council’s Affordable Warmth team for advice and guidance with the local authority bosses aware that thousands of families are facing “tough decisions on spending their limited income on heating - or buying other essentials and living in a cold home.”
The Affordable Warmth Unit at St Helens Council can help residents with the information they need to help reduce their fuel bills. Contact the team on 01744 671611.