It just doesn't add up. Our income is the same every month, but our expensesseem to change every week. The kids need new books for school. The car needs repairs. A cold snap hits but we can't afford to turn up the heat, so the baby gets sick. Anyway, how can we even know if our 'budget' is working? This month's gas bill won't arrive until the middle of next month. Who knows what expenses we'll have by then?
Energy bills have gone up for everyone in the past decade. But it's sometimes easy to overlook the fact that a certain level of increase is dramatically different from family to family. A 10% rise in gas prices might equate to 1% of a person's monthly income – and go largely unnoticed. But for a person with a lower income, the same 1% increase can take a much bigger dent out of available funds.
For people in fuel poverty, every single day can present almost impossible choices. What must be stressed is that they are not contemplating whether to spend a few extra dollars on dinner out OR a movie. Rather, every spending decision involves trade-offs among things that are essential to their family's health and well-being.
With hungry children in a cold house, parents typically look for ways to reduce their own impact on the family budget. Some elderly people spend most of their time at home under the blankets with the lights out. Others make a point of passing as much time as possible in public spaces – libraries, shopping malls or community centres – to reduce the number of hours they need to heat their own flats or homes.
Being cold all the time contributes to a range of health problems. The mental strain of finding ways to cope and the financial stress of fuel poverty often lead to feelings of helplessness, which can spiral downward to depression, anxiety and even thoughts of suicide. COLD@HOME will explore both physical and mental health in detail.