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