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UK faces ‘public health crisis’ this winter, charities warn


Charities have warned that millions of Britons face a “public health crisis” this winter because of high energy bills, despite the government’s £150bn package to limit costs.

Calling for extra state support, anti-poverty groups on Friday said there was already evidence of some families cutting back on the quantity and quality of food they were buying in order to pay gas and electricity bills, which will be almost double the level they were in 2021.

Energy analysts said there were also early signs of a reduction in energy demand as households and businesses “self-ration” in response to higher prices.

A typical yearly household energy bill will rise to £2,500 from October 1, from £1,971 at present, although the precise amount will depend on usage.

Prime minister Liz Truss this month announced an unprecedented support package to ensure average domestic bills remain at around that level for the next two years. Households will this winter also receive an additional £400 deduction.

But charities warned that about 6.7mn, or more than a fifth of British households, would still be in fuel poverty this winter, up from 4.5mn a year earlier, given the rise in prices.

The energy price cap, which dictates bills for 24mn households, was roughly £1,277 based on typical usage last winter.

Adam Scorer, chief executive of the charity National Energy Action, said the rise in energy bills was “unaffordable for millions”, with people “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,” he added.

A YouGov poll of more than 4,000 households published by the NEA on Friday showed 24 per cent of parents had cut the amount of food they were buying. One in ten said they were eating cold meals to reduce energy usage.

Laura Sandys, chair and founder of the charity the Food Foundation, said conditions meant “it may no longer be a question of heating or eating for many” this winter.

“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,” she added.

Both Scorer and Sandys urged the government to boost support for low-income households. NEA and energy companies such as ScottishPower have long called for a separate, subsidised “social” energy tariff for the very poorest.

According to the energy consultancy EnAppSys, electricity demand in Britain over the past few months has fallen 9 per cent compared with the same period last year and 8 per cent compared with 2019.

Truss was criticised on Thursday for telling BBC Radio Leeds that households’ “maximum” energy bill this winter would be £2,500.

The government’s energy support scheme limits the price per unit of electricity and gas that households will be charged from October 1 at about 34p per kilowatt hour (kWh) for electricity and 10.3 per kWh for gas, inclusive of value added tax. But a household’s overall bill will depend on use.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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