Eat or heat - fuel crisis and Universal Credits cuts leave Halifax families forced to choose

Soaring energy prices will see Halifax families forced to choose between keeping warm and putting food on the table.

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 10:46 am
Abid Hussain helping out at the Halifax Community Fridge food bank

That is the stark warning from the town’s MP and local charities who say the impact of the fuel crisis, compounded by an imminent cut to Universal Credit payments, will leave many people in financial hardship.

Today the Halifax Courier is launching a campaign - Keep Us Warm This Winter - committing to stand up for our communities as they face one of the toughest winters yet.

We pledge to provide our readers with the information they need about the fuel crisis, and keep them up to date with developments and ways to ensure they can cope with the months ahead.

MP for Halifax Holly Lynch is warning families will face having to choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table.

We will put pressure on Government to ensure no vulnerable families find themselves without heating this winter, and demand extra payments to those families to cover the excess heating charges

MP for Halifax Holly Lynch said: “I am very concerned that this crisis will hit working people who are already faced with cuts to Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit and a hike in National Insurance contributions the hardest.

“Because of the Government’s incompetence and indifference towards working people, many families in Halifax will have to choose between turning the heating on or putting food on the table this winter.”

Last week she told Parliament that scrapping the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit, introduced last year because of the pandemic, was causing a great deal of worry to thousands of Halifax residents and that a staggering 56 per cent of the town’s working families with children will be hit by the cut.

“The relationship between this cut and the financial resilience and wellbeing of those families, and the knock-on effect for the fragile, recovering, local economy, is desperately real,” she said.

“Those families do not have the money, meaning it is not spent in local shops or with local service providers. This is a double blow, coming at exactly the wrong time for families and for the economy.”

She added: “This cut will mean that during the formative years of children’s lives many families will have to make fraught decisions, where they are faced with making a choice about which essentials they can and cannot afford to pay for.”

Charities across Calderdale who help the area’s most vulnerable are bracing themselves for a steep rise in demand for their support.

They fear the financial and mental strains of the pandemic will only be exacerbated by these latest challenges.

Kim Sheddon from Mothershare, which supports families in need, said: “I think the problem is already there and it’s only going to get worse. It’s awful.”

Having to spend extra money on fuel means less money for other basic necessities, she said.

She worries that desperate parents could turn to lenders with exorbitant interest fees, especially with Christmas approaching.

She urged anyone who is struggling to get in touch: “We can help. It only takes a phone call and if we can’t help then we have the resources to seek support from other agencies.”

Hassan Riaz, from Halifax Community Fridge, said: “We’re still as busy as ever. We have 40 to 50 people coming every day.”

He said the team, who hand out food from its base at Madni Mosque on Gibbet Street, has seen more people reaching out for help via social media over the last few weeks.

“We’re definitely here for them,” he said. “We’re open seven days a week for that reason.”

Age Concern Calderdale and Kirklees Chief Executive Lisa Butland said: “Lots of older people will have seen the reports about the possibility of energy shortages and price hikes.

“We urge them to keep their homes adequately warm as we head into winter. If they are struggling to pay their energy bills or repay a debt, it is the energy company’s duty to help so it’s worth getting in touch with them.

“Age UK in Calderdale can also help you by checking you are receiving all the financial help you are entitled to. Our office number is 01422 252040.”

To contact Mothershare for support or to volunteer or donate, email [email protected] or call 07383 440050.

Halifax Community Fridge is open every day from noon to 2pm. Donations can be dropped off there or for more information call 07790 758618.