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Typical Household

21 Jan, 2023

Where is this "typical household in Great Britain" whose energy bill is not more than £2500 per year? Are they struggling as much as us? My family comprises two adults and a teenager and we live in a small two bedroomed mid terrace. We have cavity wall insulation, the regulation amount of loft insulation, we have ancient double glazing, solar panels on the roof and a gas combi boiler that is older than our daughter. We live in fuel poverty.

During the very cold weather in December 2022 35% of our weekly household income was spent on fuel. That £75 just about paid for powering our basic appliances, lighting, cooking 1 hot meal and running the central heating for 2.5 hours each day for one week. It was cold and it was uncomfortable, bordering on unbearable. Our home felt so chilly that we all wore a thermal base layer, our winter clothes and oversized 'Hoodies' in the house all the time (hat, gloves and thick socks highly recommended extras). The lounge temperature was about 10C, most of my houseplants died, and it never once reached 18C, the government recommended minimum temperature threshold for “minimal risk to health” even with the heating on.

To protect our daughter from the worst of this situation, she stayed behind at school every day until the library closed, to work where she didn't need to wear her coat. We bought an electric blanket for her bed (a few pence for a warm night's sleep) and a 1kw portable heater (35p per hour) so she could study at home in the evenings. We timed the heating so that it was on when she got ready for school in the morning and was put on again only when she returned home 10 hours later.

Mopping the condensation which streamed down every window and pooled onto the windowsills became part of my morning routine. I don't care what the magazine articles say, whether I wiped with bleach or with vinegar the cloth still came away black from the damp and mould each day. I plugged the draughts in our North facing lounge and covered the letterbox and small window with bubble wrap, but to sit in there I took a hot water bottle and enticed our dog (toasty warm her fleece pyjamas) to cuddle under a sleeping bag with me as I crocheted odd balls of wool into a huge blanket.

Of course mood, mental health and productivity took a nose dive along with the temperature. It is so hard to drag myself out of bed when I know that it is the warmest place I will be all day. I hope no one in this 'typical household' has to work from home. Or has a baby or elderly relatives to keep warm. Or suffers chronic pain. Or have adaptations to their home or medical devices which use electricity. Or live in a poorly insulated, damp home.

Fortunately for us all, the sub zero temperatures didn't last long and the unseasonably mild weather has returned. But hoping that global warming will keep us from freezing during winter isn’t a viable strategy. We live very frugally in all ways, but I really found it difficult and unnerving to survive through just one short spell of cold weather, draining over a third of our income on energy. Even rationing energy to that extent, our annual bill would be £3650 per year. I can't imagine what this 'typical household' experiences to keep their bills ‘capped’ at £2500. Any ideas?

Photo credit: Paul Shields/University of York.

Written by

Lili K

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