People in Leeds face choice between shampoo, bread or crime as fears rise over fuel poverty consequences

People in Leeds are having to choose between shampoo or bread and being forced into crime as poverty pinches across the city.

Monday, 10th January 2022, 4:45 am

Across West Yorkshire 169,000 households, which is 18 per cent of the county's 2.4 million population, people are having a difficult choice to make on whether to spend money on fuel or food.

A partnership of the NHS, local councils, housing associations and the voluntary community social enterprise sector - West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership (WY HCP) - is investing £1m to help keep people warm this winter through projects such as home insulation, boiler repairs, financial savings and benefits advice.

While the help is welcomed, community workers say it is not solving wider problems and causes.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Households in Leeds recorded their largest rise in electricity consumption in eight years in 2020, figures show, as Covid forced people to spend more time at home.

The latest figures held by the Leeds Observatory show that even before the pandemic, fuel poverty was a growing problem in the city. In 2018, 34,657 households in Leeds were considered to be in fuel poverty and that in 2019, the figure had risen to 57,429. That represented 16 per cent of the city's households and a 22,772 increase on 2018. It was also higher than the percentage for England which was 13.4 per cent.

Armley Helping Hands was founded in 1995 by a group of local people and community activists to address concerns and issues relating to the welfare of local older people.

Read More

Read More
£1m is being invested to help people in West Yorkshire stay warm this winter

Dawn Newsome, the chief executive officer says they have been shocked by the situations people have found themselves in.

Dawn Newsome of Armley Helping Hands says she they have been shocked by the situations people have found themselves in when trying to tackle fuel poverty.

She told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "What has absolutely shocked us is that we have worked with older people for 26 years and were in a bit of a bubble but when we started the hub it really opened our eyes to significant issues in our community that we face day to day.

"If anything I would say it is more people who are working. They have more out of pocket expenses and they can't access funding, there are some pathways to support people but if you are just over the threshold it puts you in a vulnerable situation.

"I got contacted to support a family between Christmas and New Year. There was mum, dad and three children. Both mum and dad worked and they were really embarrassed to say that they were struggling. Everything had gone up - the commute to work, utilities - but the salary had not. He had to self-isolate, lost his income and was struggling. The first thing people think about is food but for them it was shampoo. The wife and one of the children had long hair and not been able to wash their hair for a couple of days. They were thinking literally - shampoo or a loaf of bread but his first response was 'we work so won't be able to access support'."

She added that the poverty situation is having a knock-on effect elsewhere - particularly for older people and crime.

Ms Newsome explained: "People think older people are more financially stable but we have some people considering reducing care because the cost of things have gone up and we have seen an increase in older people being the victims of crime because other people are struggling.

"We had a lady over New Year that had been robbed at home of money she had put away for services and another one where someone stole £300 out of their hand. Credit to the community as we managed to raise that money back for her, but, if we had not that was her income for the Christmas period.

"It is not just about poverty in that sense, it is the knock on effect on the rest of the community. It is not acceptable and I don't condone it but you know why people have got themselves involved in crime."

While Armley Helping hands has discretionary funding it can allocate for emergencies, more needs to be done to tackle the root and cause of poverty issues with more sustainable solutions.

She said: "What we are concerned about is we don't want to be a sharp quick fix. There needs to be long term intervention. We can give someone £20 funding this week, but what about next week or the next week? When we set up the hub it was about food but, particularly for the last eight months, we have looked at transition and recovery and how we can support people to get on the right pathway and the appropriate system."

Local mum Clare was cutting back on food and clothes until she was helped by the Green Doctor project, run by Groundwork which is a coming together of charities taking practical action in the community to help tackle poverty.

She says: "It is cold at the moment. It is hard, financially very hard when it is the winter months. Having small children, it is important to keep warm and I can't go again like we did this Christmas where we were cold.

"You cut back on food, you cut back on clothing, you just make a lot of cut backs and I will admit I went once or twice to the foodbank. There are a lot of people in that situation at the moment, you have to make these sacrifices because warmth is more important."

Green Doctors fitted draught stoppers around doors and windows, panels behind radiators and helped her get a discount on bills saving her more than a hundred pounds.

She added: "I really was chuffed and thought 'at last something that will benefit us' and I don't have to worry now."

It comes as households in Leeds recorded their largest rise in electricity consumption in eight years in 2020 as Covid forced people to spend more time at home.

The figures come at a time of rising energy prices, driven by a spike in the cost of gas, with energy bills predicted to double this year.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy figures show 1,249 Gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity were consumed by domestic meters in Leeds in 2020. This was a five per cent rise on the 1,185 GWh consumed the year before and the largest change since comparable records began in 2012.

It comes as Labour Shadow Chancellor and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves called on the Government to remove VAT on domestic gas and electricity bills through the winter months to help families weather the storm. Labour said new figures from the House of Commons Library show that rising energy, food and other bills meant the Treasury is expected to have an extra £3.1 billion in VAT receipts this year, which it could use to fund the energy bill VAT cut.

A Government spokesperson said during a recent National World investigation into fuel poverty: “We are making significant progress in tackling fuel poverty, with the Energy Company Obligation installing over 3.3 million measures in 2.3 million homes to date, replacing 750,000 boilers.

"Given its success, we have extended the scheme to 2026 and boosted its funding to £1 billion. But we want to go further and faster, ensuring nobody goes cold in their own home. That is why we are investing £1.3 billion into making homes more energy efficient, cheaper to heat and helping low-income families significantly reduce their energy bills."

Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United. With a digital subscription, you'll see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.