With the NPower Foundation estimating that 1.6 million people have “self disconnected” in the past 12 months it is clear that too many people are having to chose between food and heating. Annie Oliver, Programme Driector at Feeding Britain writes about the innovative ‘Fuel Bank’ scheme set up in Conrwall to help those who need support.

No one should have to make the impossible choice between putting food on the table or heating their homes. But for many people at risk of hunger, the cost of gas and electricity means they have little money left for decent food.

From our work with food aid projects across the UK we know that people who are experiencing food insecurity are in many cases also struggling with other expenses- such as utility bills, loan repayments, childcare, or other basic essentials. Many who are forced to make the decision between heating and eating choose to forgo the fuel. The npower foundation have reported that the number of people in the UK who self-disconnect over a year in order to save money is as high as 1.6 million. The impact of this is entire households left without access to energy to do the things we all take for granted –cooked meals, hot showers, and being able to turn the lights on when we need to.

When a person is experiencing food insecurity the issue of fuel poverty is further compounded. We have had food bank managers across the UK tell us that they have people returning portions of their food parcels because they don’t have the means to cook them. They either don’t have access to proper cooking appliances, or in many cases don’t have enough money to pay for the fuel.

We know that tackling this issue requires large scale change and longer term interventions- such as ensuring everyone has enough money to live on, improving access to employment, increasing the number of employers who pay living wage, and securing a fairer deal on utilities. However, while these changes are being fought for there are people today who are having to live with the very real consequences of fuel poverty. For this reason Feeding Britain is working with the npower foundation to establish Fuel Banks around the country.

Fuel Banks are a simple, but innovative solution first pioneered by npower. They provide emergency fuel vouchers to people at food banks, which provide 2 weeks’ worth of credit to top up gas or electricity meters. The vouchers can be used regardless of energy supplier, which means they can be given to any food bank customer in need.

Right now Feeding Britain is setting up a fuel bank in Cornwall- one of the top ten fuel insecure areas of England with around 36,000 households living in or at risk of fuel poverty (according to Latest BEIS fuel poverty statistics for 2015 data year). Behind the idyllic Cornish holiday destinations and famous restaurants is a hidden problem that many holiday goers don’t tend to see. Outside of the holiday destination spots, and especially over the winter period once the summer tourism jobs have gone away, many people are struggling to get by and put food on the table. In a recent survey by Cornwall Council, 15% of residents said that finding the money to pay for utility bills was a problem.

The Cornwall Fuel Bank will provide a crucial lifeline, offering emergency fuel to over 1000 people in need. Along with their food parcel, this provides the breathing space to get through the immediate crisis, and find the longer term help that is needed. Furthermore, by putting the Fuel Bank into the independent and community run Transformation CPR Foodbank, families and individuals will also be able to access longer term wraparound support. From community support and advice services to employment and skill development, this wraparound support goes beyond one-off emergency help: it empowers people to lift themselves out of a crisis and into long-term stability.