Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA
More than 3 million low-income households in the UK can’t afford to heat their homes when a “dangerously cold” weather front hits the Arctic, according to the study.
The UK Health Safety Agency has issued a cold weather warning advising vulnerable people to heat their homes to at least 18C, wear extra layers and eat hot food to protect themselves from falling temperatures.
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Ministers also confirmed that people in more than 300 postcode areas in England and Wales will receive cold weather payments in the coming days. £25 payments are triggered when the average temperature is 0C or below for seven consecutive days.
But around 710,000 households will still struggle to pay for warm clothing, heating and food, according to analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
According to the report, one-fifth of 2.5 million low-income households lived without food or heat. Last month’s JRF survey of 4,251 people in the lowest 40% of incomes also estimates that nearly 4.3 million households cut their heating spending before the cold season.
More than 7 million households have been deprived of at least one essential item since June, JRF will say when its full report is released next week.
So far this year, nearly 2.4 million households have borrowed or borrowed money to pay their bills. The current cold weather means that households with vulnerable people face the impossible decision of whether to borrow more to heat their homes to the level recommended by health professionals.
Rachelle Earwaker, a senior economist at JRF, said: “The government must see that families cannot survive the winter with current levels of support.
“For hundreds of thousands of households, there is no choice between whether or not to turn on the heating. Our research shows that they can’t afford anything recommended to protect themselves from the effects of falling temperatures.
“We are still experiencing historically high inflation and prices of basic necessities are still rising. Energy bills, albeit capped, are still nearly double than last winter. Housing shortages, rising rents and mortgage payments are putting a strain on budgets across the country.
He said dangerously cold weather was a cause for concern. “People are forced to bet on their well-being against their financial health and whether they can afford more debt without adequate heat, clothing, or hot meals.”
Earwalker added that the basic level of social security is “sadly below” the level that would allow people to meet their basic needs.
The foundation urges the government to change the universal credit and increase the base support rate.
A government spokesperson said: “Our priority will always be to support the most vulnerable. We know people are struggling with rising prices, so we protect the millions who need it most by paying at least £1,200 direct and providing households £400 for energy costs.
“Our emergency support also includes our energy price guarantee, which saves a typical household of around £900 over the winter, and our household support fund helps people with their basic expenses. Meanwhile, the chancellor recently announced a more comprehensive cost-of-living package and It ensures that those who need it most are supported in the coming year and beyond.”
The Met Office has issued a series of weather warnings for snow and ice in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and parts of the east coast and southwest of England in the coming days.
Chief meteorologist Steve Willington said: “As an Arctic marine air mass settles over the UK, temperatures will drop during the night with widespread, sometimes severe frosts and daytime temperatures just a few degrees above freezing.
“As the week progresses, especially in coastal areas or higher elevations, torrential rains will turn into more winter and the risk of snow increases. There will be widespread frosts with temperatures as low as -10C overnight in isolated spots by the end of the week.”
Age UK advised people to provide food and medicine to reduce the number of outdoor trips and to have torches with backup batteries in case of power outages.
The homeless in London will be protected for the first time this winter following the activation of severe weather emergency protocol to provide emergency shelter for hard sleepers.