Simon Read: How many must die before they act on fuel poverty?

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The stark realities of the difficulties faced by those in fuel poverty were revealed this week. The charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) asked people what life was like before they got debt help.

Some of the findings are shocking. More than half admitted that being unable to afford gas and electricity meant they had struggled to wash themselves or their clothes. On top of that, they couldn't cook food or heat their home.

"Fuel poverty isn't just about keeping warm, vital as that is," said CAP's chief executive, Matt Barlow. "It's about the grinding poverty that calls people to make impossible choices like, do I make a hot meal or bathe the kids?"

Around 6.59 million UK households are currently defined as in fuel poverty. It's accepted that it often leaves people having to choose between heating and eating because they can't afford energy bills.

But if many are also being forced to choose between washing or eating, then that's shaming. I've written many times about the scandal that is fuel poverty and, despite blatherings from the big six energy companies and the Government, the situation doesn't appear to be easing.

When the cold weather hits – as it will soon – the scandal will become a disaster for vulnerable people who can't afford to turn on their heating. The shocking result will be more unnecessary winter deaths.

The latest official figures show an estimated 31,100 excess winter deaths in England and Wales in 2012-13, a 29 per cent increase on the previous winter. There's little to suggest that the figure will fall in the coming winter.

"As we head into the colder months, our concerns are for the people who can't afford to put the heating on and can't get a hot meal inside them," said Mr Barlow. "We don't yet know if it will be a hard winter, but if it is, some people simply won't survive that kind of hardship." One unnecessary death is scandalous. The very real danger that it will run into thousands this winter shames policymakers.

s.read@independent.co.uk

twitter: @simonnread

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