Time to turn up the heat on poverty


It’s that time of year again when charities of all shapes, sizes and causes try to fight for your attention, and so win from the additional generosity that often accompanies the Christmas spirit. It is a tough, competitive place to be. So many good causes, so many problems that could do with a little help from all of us.

As an ambassador for the Time to Change mental health awareness campaign and chairman of fundraising for Bloodwise, they are the two causes that take up most of the time I give to charity. But this is also the time of year to shout out about the issue of fuel poverty. There is a mental health angle here too. Research from the charity Turn2us, as part of its No Cold Homes campaign, has shown that half of those on lower incomes are struggling with the cost of heating their home, with one in five saying that they have experienced stress or other mental health issues as a result.*

And not included in those figures, of course, all those whose lives are lost as a result of fuel poverty. Last week the Office of National Statistics revealed there were almost 44,000 ‘excess winter deaths’ in 2014/15 with 83% being over 75 years of age. Enough to fill stadiums as big as Anfield or Stamford Bridge, Villa Park or Goodison. It is the highest level it has been for fifteen years, and whilst they are not all caused by cold weather, a significant proportion are. Quite simply we need to turn the heat up.

It’s a complex problem, and one that cannot be seen through the prism of ‘cost of energy versus cost of living’ alone. For example, the research shows that only 12% of those struggling have spoken to their energy provider, and 84% are unaware that grants might be available for those finding it hard to pay the bills. It’s apparent that those struggling are the least likely to take the steps needed to apply for this support, and as such they are getting further into trouble, piling on yet more pressure and adding to the spiral of debt and depression.   
Admittedly there has been some effort by energy companies to support vulnerable customers, but it’s meaningless if people don’t hear about it. That is why campaigns such as No Cold Homes are so important, getting the message out to as many people as possible that asking for help can make such a difference.
The campaign has been backed by dozens of famous faces who have donated winter items for auction including Helen Mirren, Ed Sheeran, Olly Murs, Arsene Wenger, Hugh Laurie and Benedict Cumberbatch; I’ve even chucked in a rather lovely Norwegian jumper and a coat that I rarely wore because it looked like something Liam Gallagher would wear. The auction isn’t just about raising money; it's about making a noise so that people realise that they do not have to fight this one on their own. A third of those struggling, according the Turn2us research, won’t tell friends or family. Many aren’t even facing up to the problem themselves, so raising awareness in this way can break through to those who are hardest to reach.
The link between mental health issues and poverty is not new, but as we go into the festive season the pressure can mount. It’s not uncommon to be worried about money at Christmas, but when it impacts on your physical or mental health it’s too heavy a price to pay. Money worries are often difficult to deal with because they are so complicated, but the positive side of all this is that things can and do get better once you’ve started to address the problem. Small changes can make a big difference.

Find out more about the Turn2us No Cold Homes campaign and our celebrity clothes auction which runs until Wednesday 9th December.
*All figures, unless otherwise stated are from a survey conducted with Research Now in September 2015. Total sample size was 2,001 adults with annual household incomes of £30,000 and less before tax and deductions