A new poll has found that about 1 in 10 parents in the UK, could be forced to eat cold meals this winter, to avoid spending money on heating as energy bills soar. A YouGov poll commissioned by the National Energy Action and Food Foundation charities found that about a quarter of adults with at least one child under 18 have had to cut back on food shopping. This crisis, which is already making life difficult for millions of the most vulnerable families, is about to force a larger share of households into fuel poverty, as, from tomorrow (October 1st), Ofgem will raise the price cap on household energy bills from £1,971 to an unprecedented £2,500.
The study found that the crippling energy bills have forced parents to cut back on how much food they buy, as they struggle to afford other life necessities like gas and electricity.
The survey, which looked at 4,280 UK adults, found that 28 percent of parents have had to reduce the quality of food they were buying, and over one in 10 had eaten meals that do not require cooking, in an effort to save money on energy.
Household energy bills have grown to such unaffordable levels over the past year due to the rise in wholesale gas prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Before Prime Minister Liz Truss announced a freeze on energy bills at £2,500, Ofgem had raise the price cap to £3,549 a year, with many experts warning that bills could soar up £5,000 by next summer.
While Ms Truss’ intervention lowers energy bills by about £1,000, these bills increase will still bite families hard, particularly as the new tariffs are nearly double the £1,271 average bill a year ago.
This increase is equivalent to nearly a third of how much a household of two adults and children, living on a very low income, spends on food over the course of a year, according to the Guardian.
National Energy Action warned that the soaring energy bills have resulted in the number of UK households living on fuel growing from 4.5 million last October to 6.7 million right now.
One parent who is worried is Dominic Watters, a single dad who is in food and fuel poverty, even before the price increases. He said: “When the electric is on emergency I live in a state of emergency, not knowing if I’ll be able to cook the food, boil the kettle, wash my daughter’s uniform or even have a shower.”
Adam Scorer, chief executive at National Energy Action, said: “People have had to choose between heating and eating. This winter millions will not have even that choice.
“The most vulnerable, including children, will be cold and hungry as energy prices spiral, despite Government support. Energy bills almost doubling in a year is unaffordable for millions and our survey shows people are already cutting back on the quality of what they eat as well as the quantity.
“The impacts on health and wellbeing are devastating and will only get worse after Saturday’s price rises. It’s a public health emergency.
“More targeted and enduring support, like an energy social tariff, is crucial if the most vulnerable are to get through winter warm and fed.”
The study found that two thirds of parents were worried that as the energy bills rise, they would have less money buy food, with over half expressing concern about how this winter would impact their family’s health.
Laura Sandys, chair and founder of The Food Foundation said: “For this winter, it may no longer be a question of heating or eating for many households; the cost-of-living crisis and energy bill increases will see children living in homes where there is no longer that choice – they will both go hungry and be cold.
“Government must support low-income families to ensure that children can be warm and well-fed. The implications of not addressing this double whammy will last longer than the winter, with children’s physical, mental and academic growth stunted, impacting those with the least most.”
Professor Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology at University College London, Director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity, and Past President of the World Medical Association said: “Hungry and cold is not just a miserable way for a child to spend the winter, it is bad for mental and physical health.
“It is a soluble problem but will take vigorous Government action. What could be more important for a rich country than this.”