More than one million British families now live in fuel poverty

Families hit by a combination of soaring energy costs and the squeeze on benefits

More than one million families with children cannot afford to heat and light their homes, official figures have disclosed.

The number of English families in fuel poverty has climbed steadily over the last decade to reach 1,027,000. The total comprises 679,000 two-parent families and 348,000 single-parent households.

Campaigners said they had been hit by a combination of soaring energy costs and the squeeze on benefits.

By contrast many pensioner households have escaped fuel poverty because of the help older people receive with energy bills and the protection of pension levels.

Almost one in five families with children (18 per cent) are in fuel poverty in England, according to the latest statistics, with an average gap of almost £400 a year between a family’s energy bill and what it can afford.

Caroline Flint MP, the shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who uncovered the figures for 2012, said Britain faced an “energy crisis”.

As well as families who could not afford their bills, millions more were “worrying about how they will make ends meet this winter”, she said.

Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, responded: “Overall fuel poverty has fallen year on year, but there’s still some way to go. Our energy efficiency plans are targeting help at those who need it most.”

Fiona Weir, the chief executive of Gingerbread, said: “Single parent families are hit harder by rises in fuel prices because a larger proportion of their outgoings have to go on the essentials, such as energy bills and food for their family. At the same time wages haven’t risen and cuts to tax credits and other benefits are putting many under serious financial pressure.”

The charity National Energy Action called for families to get help insulating their homes, and for ministers to consider extending the winter fuel payment, which is only paid to pensioners, to low-income households.

Levels of fuel poverty are high across the UK. In 2011 25 per cent of households in Scotland were categorised as “fuel poor” and 29 per cent in Wales.