High bills and energy debt fuelling a women’s mental health crisis

Over one in ten UK women (14%) have been in energy debt in the last six months – with nearly a third (29%) of those worried about paying their bills, and 19% suffering sleepless nights.

Nine percent even say it has made them ill, with 6% missing work because of stress, according to new research from the Women’s Institute (WI) published during Mental Health Awareness Week (May 13 to May 19). 

The survey was commissioned by Warm This Winter for The WI and polled over a thousand women across the UK. Its aim was to assess the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on women – financially and from a mental health viewpoint. 

In further key findings, 15% of women are either considering or have skipped meals to make ends meet, one in eight now considers relying on foodbanks and 14% have given up their hobbies, which in turn affects mental health.

Melissa Green, National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) CEO said: 

“Our research shows that the cost-of-living crisis deeply affects women, who often take on the mental load of running a household on top of their jobs. 

“We all know and feel the financial impact, but it’s desperately worrying to see women skipping meals, cutting back on essentials, or borrowing just to make ends meet. Overall, 60% said that 2023 had been a more difficult year than 2022 – which is a depressing statistic.”

Fiona Waters from Warm This Winter said:

“The survey indicates that women can see that the UK’s energy system is broken and want long term solutions such as 73% calling for properly funded insulation and renewable energy schemes that will end the vicious circle of sky high bills. They also want the UK to move away from being so dependent on expensive gas for our energy, which harms the climate, creates insecurity and inflates bills.”[1]

The research by Opinium also found that over two-thirds (68 percent) felt there should be financial support for vulnerable people such as children, the ill or elderly, to help with their energy bills. Respondents also felt that the recent £28 additional charge being levied by Ofgem to help energy suppliers recover energy debt should be spent on helping people to repay their debt (38%) or even write off customer debt (20 percent) altogether.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Campaign commented:

“People have spent over three years facing sky high energy bills and are no longer prepared to put up with increases in their bills to line the pockets of an energy industry which has made billions from the energy costs crisis. What people want to see are a mixture of long term solutions to fix Britain’s broken energy system and short term support for those who need extra help with their bills.”

Melissa Green, NFWI CEO said these findings are ‘a clear clarion call’: 

“With 15% of women in fuel poverty telling us they are borrowing money from friends or family, and 20% again in energy debt – using overdrafts and credit cards to cover their bills – there is much more that policy makers can do to make companies work for their customers; and not simply shareholders. Women are the change-makers here, representing just over half of UK eligible voters. It’s time to hold those in power to account – which the WI has never shied away from doing.”


[1] The majority of women feel the UK’s energy system is broken (60 percent) and want to see real change with nearly three quarters (73 percent) calling for proper financial help to insulate homes and 71 percent asking for more investment in homegrown renewable energy that would improve the UK’s energy security.  Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) also want to see a ‘proper plan’ in place to phase out gas powered energy plants.

Public opinion polling from Opinium who interviewed 2,000 people between 15 and 19 March 2024. Results were weighted to be representative of the UK population.