Nine million adults spent Christmas in Dickensian conditions

Millions of adults with pre-existing serious health conditions are spending the Christmas and New Year period in cold damp homes, according to new research. [1]

The figures for the Warm This Winter campaign reveal the growing depth of the energy bills crisis – especially among the most vulnerable.

18% of the population (9.02m adults) are living in cold damp homes this month, with a quarter of people with health conditions which are made worse by cold and damp unable to heat their homes to a safe standard (26%, 4.75m).

A third of those with disabilities (28%, 1.9m) live in cold damp homes.

The research also reveals that people are not just concerned about their own welfare. One in ten of the population (9%) are worried about an older relative being exposed to the health impacts of living in a cold damp home. Almost a third (27%) were worried about the impact of fuel poverty on their local community.

And despite Government campaigns calling for people to save energy, over half (55%) believe they had already implemented energy reduction measures prior to this winter – with 15% already cutting back their energy use to the bare minimum necessary to keep safe.

Jonathan Bean from Buckinghamshire, describes his experience of fuel poverty:

It’s a daily battle for my asthmatic son and I to keep our home free of mould and damp.

We have dehumidifiers and electric heaters running as much as we can afford to, but that still doesn’t keep the home any warmer than 12 degrees.

We even had ice forming inside our double glazed windows during the recent cold weather.

Our electricity bills keep going up and while others who are ‘off the gas grid’ have had extra government support, we haven’t.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition which is part of the Warm This Winter campaign, commented:

As we get deeper into winter, our worst fears about rising energy bills are being realised.

We are now a nation unable to keep itself warm, concerned for the well being of our nearest and dearest and spending a festive season suffering in cold damp homes.

Jacky Peacock from Advice for Renters, a charity working with those in fuel poverty in North London, added:

We used to read Dickens at Christmas with a sense of nostalgia, but now Dickensian conditions are back for those who can’t afford to heat their homes this winter.

Graham Easterlow, Chief Executive of East Durham Trust in Peterlee, said:

Working in the most left behind place in England we see the devastating effects that poor housing has on people’s health and wellbeing. With many unable to heat their homes we fear that more homes will suffer with damp and cold.

Alice Harrison, Fossil Fuels Campaign Leader at Global Witness, commented:

It’s scandalous how many people will be celebrating Christmas this year in cold, damp homes.

If our government was serious about addressing energy poverty this winter it would hike taxes on the oil and gas companies that have made billions on the back of the skyrocketing cost of energy and the impoverishment of millions of UK citizens.

Simon Brammer, Head of Cities at climate solutions charity Ashden, said:

How is it possible in the world’s sixth richest country that people are still living in cold, expensive to heat homes, causing misery and poor health for millions?

We urgently need a UK-wide, 10-year, street-by-street retrofit plan that is properly funded – combined with a skills strategy to ensure we have the skilled labour to deliver it.

Graham Duxbury, Chief Executive of Groundwork UK added

We are desperately worried about the mental and physical health effects of people living in cold, damp homes this Christmas.

Our Green Doctors are making an unprecedented number of home visits to deliver energy advice and tell us that they are seeing more and more people living in ‘pre-Victorian conditions’, forced to survive without heat and cutting back on essential personal items.

This is not a short-term crisis but a long-term need, which can only be resolved by putting in place extra protection for those most vulnerable, a more coordinated approach to funding advice services and by ramping up efforts to retrofit homes.

Stuart Bretherton, Energy For All Campaign Coordinator at Fuel Poverty Action, said:

The political choices of this government are quickly turning this poverty crisis into a public health crisis, which could result in an unprecedented number of deaths from cold and damp this winter.

This is in a year that profits for energy companies have doubled or even tripled in some cases. With this money you could end deaths from fuel poverty by making sure everyone could access enough energy to meet their basic needs.


‘Dickensian’ graphic used is from Shutterstock and is an artists conception.

[1] 2,186 people interviewed between 20-21 December 2022. Results were weighted to be representative of the GB population.

The GB population aged 18 or over stands at 51,435,642 (ONS) and population statistics are derived from this number. The figures apply to adults only and the number of children also in cold damp homes would be in addition to this. Deeper analysis of the data will be published in the new year on this issue.

[2] Comparison with previous research

Nov 2022 [3] Dec 2022 [1]
All adult public in cold damp homes 19% 18%
Vulnerable adults in cold damp homes 22% 21%
Adults with health conditions in cold damp homes 26% 26%
Elderly people in cold damp homes 10% 10%
Disabled adults in cold damp homes 28% 29%
Young families in cold damp homes 26% 21%
Rural and vulnerable adults in cold damp homes 23% 20%
BAME adults in cold damp homes 22% 24%
Pre-Payment Meter (PPM) Customers in cold damp homes 31% 36%

[3] 2,198 people interviewed between 29-30 November 2022. Results were weighted to be representative of the GB population.

Fuel poverty risk index reveals areas under greatest energy bills threat

The Open Data Institute (ODI) has published a new report revealing the sections of society that are most affected by fuel poverty, the failings in fuel poverty data collection, as well as looking at the areas of the country where the problem hits the hardest.

It has also published a new annual fuel poverty risk index, which calculates a score that estimates the risk of someone being in fuel poverty for each local authority in England.

The fuel poverty risk index contains a graphic tool that can be used to highlight the impact of fuel poverty across England.

The index will be updated annually and calculates the level of risk based on the demand for energy, the levels of poverty and the support that’s available to households in any given local authority area.

The index reveals that Blackpool, Knowsley, Middlesborough, Hartlepool and Birmingham are at greatest risk of fuel poverty. This paints a different picture to current fuel poverty statistics which are historic and produced by the Government.

Lisa Allen, Director of Data & Services at the Open Data Institute said:

Having an effective data infrastructure in place around fuel poverty would help to identify those who are in most need in a systematic way and could also highlight the longer term benefits associated with adequate investment in efforts to tackle fuel poverty.

In turn, this would assist government, charities, and those households in need of assistance with bills or energy efficiency.

It is important that this data is as up to date as is possible, so that decisions can be made in a timely manner and across factors.

This could help decide which groups to target when offering support and how much investment in fuel poverty support is optimal given short and long term impacts.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, which is also part of the Warm This Winter campaign, said:

Fuel poverty is a public health emergency this winter and this report shows the areas of the country that are suffering the most.

Those areas of the country where energy use is high, poverty and ill health commonplace, and where there is a lack of mitigating energy efficiency measures in place, are in the eye of the storm.

The better use of data could, for example, help planning for surges in demand on the NHS as people who are elderly, disabled or with pre-existing health conditions suffer from the complications of living in a cold damp home.

Fuel bills set to soar under latest work from home rules

New research from Nottingham Trent University has revealed the likely impact of the latest work from home restrictions on fuel poverty.

According to the experts, working from home could cost some households an extra £45 per month more this winter in increased heating and electricity bills.

The Fuel Poverty Coalition told the BBC:

Increasing numbers of people right across the country are having to make the stark choice between heating and eating. As temperatures continue to hover around freezing and lockdown restrictions mean people are spending more time at home, so energy bills will soar.

Recently, Citizens Advice estimated an extra 600,000 households fell into fuel poverty due to previous lockdowns.

Separate figures show millions of people are already way behind on their fuel bills meaning the latest findings from Nottingham Trent University make for grim reading.

The additional concern is that, according to experts, fuel poverty can make respiratory illnesses worse – meaning conditions such as Covid may be exacerbated by cold damp homes.

While the long term solution to ending fuel poverty is more energy efficient buildings, and programmes like the Government’s Green Homes Grant will help facilitate this, there is a real need for energy debt relief for millions of families immediately.

Employers could help by paying the energy bills of staff working from home, but it is likely that the government will need to step in to provide much more emergency support to those living in freezing conditions right now.

A study led by Professor Amin Al-Habaibeh, an expert in energy efficiency and intelligent engineering systems, shows that people in England’s 600,000 most inefficient properties could face almost an extra £28 in heating bills per month while the average pandemic home
worker will pay more than £17 extra on electricity.

However, those who previously commuted long distances to work, and who live in energy efficient properties, could make savings by working from home and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time.

Professor Al-Habaibeh, of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, said:

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many people to work from home and this clearly has a major effect on domestic energy consumption, as well as the nature of our carbon

The results show that a family living in a well-insulated home and who normally use a car to travel to work will not be affected significantly in terms of their household budget, as they will save on diesel or petrol.

It also shows that the increase of carbon emissions from heating their homes will on the whole be compensated by the reduction in car use.

But for a family with a poorly insulated house who in normal circumstances do not travel long distances to work, working from home over winter will cause much more of a strain on their budget as they will be consuming more energy.

Researcher Arijit Sen, who worked on the project, said:

There is clearly a risk highlighted here that households which already suffer from energy poverty could experience a worse
financial situation during a winter lockdown if they are working from home.

While many people in employment will be better off financially due to the current situation, there will be a number of people who will find working from home a much more expensive
option for them. This project shows the importance of building insulation and its effect on household budget.