It’s not much to ask to be able to be warm and have some hot food in the winter.
But it is not just about comfort and keeping warm, fuel poverty can be fundamentally damaging to physical and mental health.
There is even evidence to suggest that living in households that are cold can impact on a child’s education, attainment and social behaviour.
While considered one of the most prosperous counties in the UK, across Cambridgeshire almost 10 per cent of homes will be fuel poor at some point through the winter. In Cambridge itself, that figure stands at just over 12 per cent, or one in eight homes.
Unfortunately, in these unprecedented times, the coronavirus pandemic is expected to exacerbate fuel poverty and that is why the News has proudly teamed up once again with the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation to launch the Surviving Winter Appeal.
Thanks to the generosity of donors, the appeal last year hit its £25,000 target to help those who cannot afford to pay their bills – and this year it aims to do exactly the same.
CEO of the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation, Michael O’Toole, explained: “It shocked me that in a prosperous county like ours that many people, that many homes, can’t heat themselves properly through the winter.
“It’s more than that as well – it’s about energy. They can’t on many occasions have a hot meal.
“They don’t have the energy to cook food so they’re eating cold food in a cold house in 2020 in Cambridgeshire and that’s not right so we want to try and do something about it.”
The Cambridgeshire Community Foundation has launched a JustGiving page and any donations are greatly appreciated. Also forming part of the appeal is to ask people who receive a winter fuel payment – a government payment between £100 and £300 which is not means-tested to help pay heating bills – if they could consider donating it to the fund.
“If people need it, they should use it,” said Mr O’Toole. “But what we thought was we’d ask those people receiving it, that if they don’t need it would they consider donating some of that or the equivalent to all of it to the fund.
“So many people say we just can’t believe that this is the circumstances that people are facing in our communities and it’s a basic right, especially for older people and for children, it’s not much to ask to be able to be warm and have some hot food in the winter.”
Ahead of launching the Surviving Winter Appeal this year, Mr O’Toole questioned whether, amid the coronavirus crisis, people could again be asked to show their generosity.
In the summer, the Cambridgeshire Coronavirus Community Fund, smashed its £1 million target, providing community organisations with emergency funding to support anyone struggling as a result of Covid-19.
Funding included projects addressing financial hardship, hunger, homelessness, health issues, home education, need for self-isolation/shielding and loneliness.
Mr O’Toole said: “What has really shone through for me is how people have responded, not just in the generosity of people supporting our appeal and making donations to the Cambridgeshire Coronavirus Fund, but the way they’ve also come together and wanted to help neighbours, and people in their communities that are facing challenges.
“The way communities have come together to make sure people have food and support. It’s been inspiring.”
Unfortunately, the impact of coronavirus is expected to make fuel poverty worse, and Mr O’Toole said the foundation cannot just let it pass by without asking once again for people’s generosity.
He continued: “There’s emerging evidence and we’ve looked at some of the national bodies and Covid is definitely going to make it worse. It’s making it worse for a number of reasons.
“The fact that people are spending more time at home and therefore using more energy, and need more energy because of lockdown, working from home or periods where children are home from school.
“In the winter of course, that means you need to have the lights on and the heating on. At the same time unfortunately, we’re already starting to see the pandemic – and I think this is only going to continue sadly – affect people’s job security and their income. People are on reduced hours of work or people are placed on furlough and that’s reducing income. Particularly for people hardest hit, the most disadvantaged, it’s tipping more and more people into fuel poverty.”
Support can be provided in many ways, explained President of the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation and Lord-Lieutenant of Cambridge-shire, Julie Spence, who wants everybody in the county to feel that they have a part in it, and believes that Covid-19 has been a “big wake up call”.
She said: “Coronarivus has probably brought out the best in people. It’s brought communites back together – people realise that they may be okay, but somebody just two doors down is struggling.
“People putting their hand back to their local community. I think it’s really important to recognise that people have given a lot but there is still a lot more that we can all do and give to.
“It might not just be in money – some can be in help, particularly if you’re elderly, or actually you might not have any means of transport.
“If somebody can just transport you somewhere that can save you money that you can then pay for your heating allowances. You might not be able to give in money but you might be able to give in time.”
And as a result of the pandemic, people who may not have asked for help before, may now be finding themselves in need of a helping hand.
The Cambridgeshire Community Foundation is working with partners including Citizens Advice and Cambridge Aid – to name just two – to reduce the stigma associated with asking for help.
Mr O’Toole said: “We’d encourage anybody that is facing these kinds of challenges to reach out to the organisations that we’re working with.
“Not only can they help around fuel poverty, but they’re also experts in talking about debt advice, housing, and all the things that come with this.”
Mrs Spence, who said there is no shame in asking for help, added: “There is lots of help for many people who have never faced this situation and for many people who face it year in year out.
“They don’t realise that help is out there and they have to ask. It’s the pride that stops them asking, but they need to ask. There will be some help.”