Eating Or Heating: The Stark Choice For Many Brits As Energy Prices Soar

  • Date: 17/12/13
  • Lars Bevanger, Deutsche Welle

In the UK thousands are struggling with rising energy costs. After last winter’s record number of deaths from cold weather, pressure is mounting on the government to force energy companies to help the most vulnerable.

An estimated 31,000 people died from the effects of cold weather last winter, many of them elderly people living in poorly insulated homes and faced with skyrocketing gas and electricity costs.

People have seen their energy bills soar by 150 percent over the past ten years, and some now say they must make a choice between buying food or keeping their homes warm.

“I’d sooner starve to death than freeze to death if it should come to that. Thank God at the moment we’re not there yet,” 76 year old Cath Dixon told DW. Her flat in Longsight, one of Manchester’s poorer areas, is poorly insulated and very expensive to heat.

“I have to keep it on all day every day, because I have arthritis very bad. I can’t be cold, I have no choice in the matter.”

But with energy prices rising seven times faster than the average household income, people like Cath Dixon are really starting to feel the strain.

“If it keeps going up at the rate it is then we’re going to find ourselves struggling very, very hard indeed,” she said.

Like 76 year old Cath Dixon, a fifth of Brits have started wearing hats and scarves indoors to keep warm.


Hats and scarves inside

UK energy prices are not above the EU average, but one in five homes are brick houses from the early 1900s which retain very little heat. Because of this, people living in these kinds of houses will quickly notice every increase in energy prices on their household budget.

The latest price hike came last month, when most of the UK’s six largest energy providers turned up prices by 9 percent, taking the average family’s gas and electricity bill to a record €1,573 a year.

A recent poll showed a third of UK homes are now cutting back on their power consumption, and that more than one in five families have begun wearing scarves and hats to keep warm inside. Nearly one in four of the 2,000 people polled said they had been rationing food to be able to pay energy bills. One in 10 said they wouldn’t be able to buy Christmas gifts for their family this year.

“In all fairness, it’s pretty grim,” said Joe Malinowski from – a website helping people choose the cheapest energy provider.


A lightbulb shines dimly in the dark

A quarter of those surveyed said they are eating less to be able to pay energy bills.

“What we have is a market largely controlled by six big corporations. There’s very little difference in the pricing between the energy companies, and those bills have been rising year in year out. Lots of people are suffering because of that.”

The price increases have left a record number of people in the UK in so-called fuel poverty; when more than 10 percent of their income goes to pay gas and electricity in order to keep “an adequate level of warmth.”

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