Gas price crisis: Fears more Leeds families will face food or heating choice this winter

Fears have been raised that more families on low incomes in Leeds will have to choose between food and heating this winter amid rising energy bills and cuts to benefits.

By Mark Lavery
Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 4:45 am
Dawn Newsome, chief executive of Armley Helping Hands
Dawn Newsome, chief executive of Armley Helping Hands

The chief executive of Leeds charity Armley Helping Hands said the gas price crisis is set to have a significant impact this winter on people already struggling financially in the city in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

Armley Helping Hands supports older people in Leeds 12.

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Over the past 18 months the charity has also been working as a community hub in partnership with Leeds City Council to help vulnerable people of all ages during Covid times.

It has distributed up to 100 food parcels a day to people who were isolating or who may have lost jobs or not been able to access benefits.

Chief executive Dawn Newsome expects demand for food banks in Leeds will increase.

"It is going to have a knock on effect because they are going to have to make a decision - do they pay for their energy supply or do they buy food?

"More people are going to access food banks so they have money for energy bills," she said.

"If you have got £20 and you are freezing cold do you go for food or do you go for putting the heating on? It is a vicious circle for people.

"We look at the bigger picture, we don't just look at increasing energy bills.

"It is going to impact people's physical and mental wellbeing and it is going to increase demand for our community services.

"We have already built up our stores to meet that need, in partnership with Leeds City Council.

"It is going to put other food banks under pressure. They are going to have to meet this need."

Millions of families living in fuel poverty across the UK are set to be the hardest hit this winter as wholesale gas prices reach record highs, pushing consumer energy bills up.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said the impending cut to the £20 Universal Credit uplift and surging energy prices could plunge people into poverty.

Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands, which have some of the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK, will face the most “severe impact”, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

More than four million families across the UK are classed as living in fuel poverty by their respective devolved governments.

Definitions of fuel poverty in the UK vary from country to country.

In England, households need to be in a home with an inefficient energy rating, as well as being left below the poverty line after heating costs.

Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy figures for England show an estimated 3.2 million families were living in fuel poverty in 2019 – around 13 per cent of all households, or more than one in eight.

The 2019 figures show that 17 per cent of the 341.890 households in Leeds were in fuel poverty.

Leeds Central Labour MP Hilary Benn said: "It is going to be a very difficult winter for many people, with rocketing gas prices, rising inflation and for the thousands of families in Leeds on Universal Credit they will find themselves without the £20 a week extra they have been getting at the very moment when their bills are going up.

"The Government needs to think again about this cut and to help people affected by sky-high energy bills.”

Leeds North East Labour MP Fabian Hamilton said: "“For this Conservative Government to cut universal credit at the same time as gas prices are about to go through the roof is unforgivable. It will plunge over half a million more families into poverty. The Government should be giving working people a pay rise, not taking more money away from them in such a callous way and after what has been an extremely difficult 18 months for many.”

Leeds East Labour MP Richard Burgon said: "A gas price hike will hit people hard in East Leeds. And this comes as people are already struggling.

"Food bank use has soared - including amongst people in work - because of a decade of Conservative austerity and because of the political choices the government is continuing to make now.

"People write to me with very personal accounts of how they are suffering because of government decisions.

"It’s having a real impact on people’s physical health and mental health. People are being forced to choose between eating and heating their homes.

"People’s stress levels are through the roof. And this comes as people face the government’s cruel £20 Universal Credit cut, which will affect 14,000 families in East Leeds alone.

"It’s a cut which will impact on two out of every three workers with children in East Leeds."

Coun Mary Harland, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities, said 76,000 residents in Leeds will see their incomes decrease by £100 a month due to the Universal Credit cut.

Coun Harland said: “This cut will be devastating for Leeds families barely getting by on low incomes at a time when energy prices and food costs are both rising.

"The government must cancel it or risk our most vulnerable residents having to choose between heat and food this winter.”

A Government spokesperson said: "“Protecting consumers is our top priority. That’s why the Energy Price Cap will remain in place to protect millions of people from the sudden increases in global gas prices and we have numerous other schemes available to support vulnerable and low-income households, such as the Warm Home Discount.

"Major energy suppliers also purchase much of their wholesale supplies many months in advance, giving protection to them and their customers from short-term price spikes.

“The uplift to Universal Credit was always temporary, to help claimants through the economic shock of the toughest stages of the pandemic. It’s right that the Government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and those already employed to progress and earn more.”

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