The spectre of fuel poverty hits the middle classes

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Woman looking out windowFuel poverty, where you spend 10% of your income just on heating and lighting your home, is something that is typically only suffered by the very vulnerable, including the elderly and those on very low incomes.

However, new figures show that this is becoming markedly more widespread. So could you end up in fuel poverty?

Spread of fuel poverty
Research from uSwitch has shown that shockingly, a quarter of all households now face fuel poverty. That includes 36% of households that consider themselves working class, and 15% of middle class households. And once you retire and are on a fixed income, your chances of fuel poverty are even higher: some 24% of middle class pensioners are currently suffering fuel poverty.

The massive spread of fuel poverty is the result of costs spiraling out of control. Increases in the wholesale cost of power (and profits for power companies) mean that household energy bills have increased by a jaw-dropping £472 a year - or 71% over the past five years. It's no wonder that affordability problems are spreading like wildfire.

Getting worse
Even more alarmingly, it found that if you took housing costs out of the monthly pot and then calculated fuel costs as a proportion of expenses, it would push nine million people into fuel poverty - or a third of all households. This takes in 47% of working class households and 22% of middle class households.

And of course, things are set to get worse. These calculations don't take any account of the Scottish Power price rises which are now on the cards - which will mean even more people start to suffer the effects of fuel poverty.

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com, says: "The sad truth is that consumers are paying a heavy price for this country's disjointed, incoherent and unaffordable energy policy. There is now a real urgency for the Government to get on with its review of fuel poverty so it can relieve the misery facing those who cannot afford to keep warm this winter."

What can you do about it?
In the meantime, however, we need to take steps to help ourselves. It is well worth looking at the cost of fixing or capping your fuel costs to protect you from future price rises. It's also worth looking afresh at energy efficiency measures. It's something we have all heard a thousand times, but if you are one of the millions of households who haven't invested in loft or cavity wall insulation, there are still significant savings to be made.

Robinson adds: "Those who would struggle to afford this investment should contact their energy supplier to see whether they would qualify for any energy efficiency grants or financial support. Suppliers have a pot of money available to help customers in this way and those who qualify could see their energy bills substantially reduced as a result."

So what do you think? Are you approaching fuel poverty? What should the government be doing to protect you? Let us know in the comments.

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