Austerity: Parents forced to choose between food and warmth


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The Independent Online

New parents are being forced to choose between buying food or keeping their young children warm due to the soaring cost of energy bills, a charity warns today.

More than 55 per cent of parents of children under the age of four have been forced to consider cutting back on food to heat their homes adequately, a survey for the National Childbirth Trust found. Nearly 40 per cent of parents of children under 12 months also said they had rationed heating while they were on maternity or paternity leave.

The figures were released as the Labour Party said an extra 110,000 patients were diagnosed at A&E departments with “cold-related” illnesses such as circulatory and respiratory diseases in 2012-13, compared to 2009-10. Labour linked the increase to rising household bills, saying they had gone up by an average of £300 since the 2010 election.

Evidence suggests that cold housing increases a young child’s vulnerability to a range of potentially serious respiratory conditions. Belinda Phillips, the NCT’s chief executive, said parents were being faced with “buying food or keeping their babies and toddlers warm”. The NCT’s survey canvassed 1,006 parents of children aged under four.

The charity is calling for parents of children under five who are on low incomes to be automatically signed up to Government hardship payments to help pay their energy bills.

“The Government rightly helps pensioners in this way, and we need the parity for parents at home with young children who are at risk of fuel poverty,” Ms Phillips said.

A recent study led by public health expert Sir Michael Marmot found that cold housing had “significant negative effects” for young children’s weight gain and made children more than twice as likely to suffer from respiratory problems.

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy said: “We’ve already announced plans that will save customers around £50 on their energy bills, and 230,000 vulnerable and deprived households will be warmer this year through energy efficiency measures under the Energy Company Obligation scheme.”