Heating or Eating?

Imagine having to choose between having a warm home, or having a meal. Regular readers will know that it is a choice I made almost constantly in 2012 and 2013, unemployed and with benefits frequently suspended and delayed, freefalling into debts from bank charges and rent arrears, and unable to feed myself and my young son, and warm my home.

Having to choose between heating and eating is demoralising, destabilising and depressing, and haunts me again as the cold days and nights draw in.
According to research from YouGov and Npower, this winter, 1 in 10 people without regular work will go without either heating or food. As usual, I am ramping up the siren call for winter donations to food banks, and have also been working with Npower on an initiative to help people in need to heat their homes. 

The Fuel Bank has been in operation since 2015, and has recently expanded to include 44 Trussell Trust food banks up and down the country. The Fuel Bank works in conjunction with the food bank, and clients can simply ask for a fuel voucher alongside their food bank parcel when they attend the food bank. There are no long forms to fill out, no intrusive surveys, just a voucher for £49 of pay-as-you-go energy, either gas, electricity, or both depending on need.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that Npower are not restricting the fuel bank vouchers to Npower customers. Regardless of who your energy supplier is, if you are a food bank user, you should qualify for a voucher.

I am grateful for this campaign – as grateful as we learn to be, begging and scraping in the 6th richest economy in the world – as I don’t do anything that I don’t believe in, and have been to the B30 food bank at Birmingham myself to meet people who were receiving fuel bank vouchers. I sat down with them, had a cup of tea, and listened as they said that they made a genuine difference to their lives. One man had been living on cold baked beans for as long as he could remember, and being able to turn on his microwave just to heat a simple meal ‘made me feel like a person again and not an animal’. One woman, a mother, described having to sit in the cold and dark with her children. Research shows that living in damp, cold conditions is as damaging to your health as smoking 20 cigarettes a day, and yet hundreds of thousands of people up and down the country are at risk, simply because they cannot afford to heat their homes.

Npower have, through the Npower foundation, pledged £1million to the Fuel Bank scheme to continue working in 44 food banks and to add more from the Trussell Trust network according to areas of need. It has so far helped approximately 70,000 people in need, but with approximately 1 million food bank users across the country, there are thousands more to go.
Alongside their own donation, Npower have pledged to match public donations to the Foundation, so if you are looking to donate to a food bank this winter, you could double your donation at http://www.npower.com/npowerfoundation

Jack Monroe. 

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  1. Well said Jack but please don’t forget that food banks can offer heating and electric vouchers as well as food so if you didn’t mind maybe make people aware of this. I know it’s just a drop in the ocean but as a new FB volunteer I know we are well prepared and want to help.

  2. A fantastic initiative Jack and it was a pleasure to attend Fuel – not only to meet you but most importantly learn about the very people who benefit directly from this cause. Genuinely hugely eye-opening for me, inspiring me to want to do more to help – I have personally increased my contributions to food banks as a result. It’s interesting that my post on Fuel was one of the most read and shared posts I’ve ever put together. Great post.

  3. And increasing numbers of homeless guys (and women) on the streets where I live. Somewhere there’s a hostel but the people I’ve chatted with say the place is full of violent out of control druggies and it’s too scary to go there; they’d rather take their chances freezing all night in a doorway…
    At least one local café runs a Pay It Forward scheme; which is all very well if you’ve got the courage to walk through the doors. Sometimes I think well intentioned donors fail to grasp how totally cut off, alienated, anxious a homeless person can feel.
    Most days recently I’ve seen people bring warm clothing as well as hot drinks to people huddled on the ground.
    I always worry about where someone goes to the toilet if they don’t have a place, but at least more of Joe Public is responding to obvious need instead of pretending such people don’t exist.
    I suppose most of us with work and homes know now It Could Be You any time the employer changes the shifts, cuts the hours, finds another way around the regulations…
    Roll on the 21st century.

  4. We have just had another benefit suspended, through no fault of our own, since November of last year, we have a reduction on and off of over 60% of benefits, and so far have only received 20% back. Due to this latest one, chances are, we might be relying on a food bank to get us through to the new year. As for presents, we are doing mainly all home made

  5. I was told that hardly any old people ask for help from the local food bank. Why do you think this is. Who helps them?

  6. As a solo/single mother myself many years ago, I know how hard the choices are… wonderful that you are part of the goodness that can support those who are struggling, to be able to make choices that improve their lot and their self esteem.

  7. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. it is more than a few years since my family was in a difficult situation like this but I still remember the stress and sleepless nights. The shame my son obviously felt as I carefully weighed and worked out the price of 4 potatoes in a low cost shop we could walk to before going to the till. Last year my daughter made some price label size cards saying things like ‘This item would be useful to donate to a food bank’ which we stuck up in various supermarkets when we were shopping. She sent some to various friends. Your article has prompted me to ask her to print more.

  8. Thank you Jack. I did not know about the fuel vouchers. I donate to my local food Bank when ever I can now I know where to send my annual donation.
    Can I also mention that women also need sanitary towels and tampons. It is a need that some women don’t like to ask about but is essential. Please remember these items wen donating to your local food bank.

    You’re doing a great thing Jack bringing the things to the attention of others. Life is a struggle financially for may of us but we can all help even if it is only in little ways.
    Keep up the good work.

    Love to you and small boy .

    Loraine xxx

  9. Thank you for a good post on an important topic. I’ve been there, with every room but one closed off by blankets and just a bit of heat going. A blog reader recommended your blog to us as an excellent resource.

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